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Volcano Robot Falls; Airlift Due

<i> from Associated Press</i>

The spider-like Dante II robot explorer toppled after breaking one of its eight legs and must be airlifted out of a volcanic crater strewn with boulders.

NASA scientists considered abandoning the $1.7-million robot but instead decided Saturday to try to have a helicopter lift it out of Mt. Spurr, where it lay on its side, its camera panning the terrain.

“Dante is still alive,” said John Bares, a robotics expert from Carnegie Mellon University.

The remote-controlled robot had been sent into the 11,000-foot mountain July 29 to test its ability to survive harsh environments. Scientists hope to one day use robots similar to Dante to explore other planets.

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Dante lost its footing Friday night when one of its legs malfunctioned as it was climbing up the crater’s slope, Bares said.

Scientists were moving the robot through the rugged boulder field when one of the front legs didn’t respond to the commands about 400 feet from the crater rim.

“It pushed down too hard. We really don’t know why,” Bares said.

Dante might have been able to get up on its own, but the scientists decided instead to end the mission and fold up Dante’s legs to make it as small as possible for the airlift.

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“We’ve run a week longer than we intended--and the mission accomplished more than we really hoped,” Bares said.

They plan to pluck the 1,700-pound machine off Mt. Spurr, 80 miles west of Anchorage, on Monday.


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