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Simulating a Martian landing in the sky above Hawaii
Simulating a Martian landing in the sky above Hawaii

On a cloudless day in early June, Mark Adler stood facing the empty maw of the Pacific, contemplating invisible winds high above his head. For two years, he had pored over meteorological data from around the world in search of a sweet spot. That search landed him here, at the remote Pacific Missile Range Facility on the far western tip of Kauai. Here, at this time of year, the winds did exactly what he wanted. Usually. Adler has worked as an engineer and program manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for more than 20 years, mostly on missions to Mars. He now heads a new project with a mouthful of a name — the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator, known in the acronym-strewn world of...

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