An Air Force Special Operations Command MH-53 helicopter flew its last combat mission in Iraq March 28 and is being retired after 38 years of service. This particular airframe, tail number 68-10357, has a distinguished past, having been the lead command-and-control platform for the daring raid into North Vietnam in November 1970 to rescue US prisoners of war from the Son Tay prison camp west of Hanoi. Although the raid was a tactical failure because no POWs were found, it was also considered a success because its symbolic significance boosted POW morale and led the North Vietnamese to change the way that they held prisoners. The helicopter, the last of the five MH-53s from the raid still around, will be transported to the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where it will sit on display in the Cold War gallery. The Air Force expects to retire all of its remaining MH-53s by October. (Includes Hurlburt report by TSgt. Kristina Newton)
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.