Baghdad—Pentagon leaders officially ended the US military mission in Iraq Thursday in a solemn ceremony here that recognized the significant and selfless sacrifices of Americans and Iraqis throughout the nearly nine years of war. “On this very historic occasion for both the Iraqi people and the American people, no words, no ceremony can provide full tribute to the sacrifices that have brought this day to pass,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in his address at US Forces-Iraq headquarters, along the flight line of the former Sather Air Base. Nearly 4,500 US military personnel were killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the follow-on Operation New Dawn and more than 32,000 were wounded. “For more than 20 years, Iraq has been a defining part of our professional and our personal lives. The road we have traveled was long and it was tough,” said Joints Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey at the ceremony. He added, “Our journey was a lesson in courage, affirmation of shared sacrifice, and a monument to sheer will.” Hundreds of troops were scheduled to fly out of Sather on Thursday, with the remaining roughly 3,500 US military personnel left to depart Iraq by month’s end.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.