Human Touch May Be Needed to Save Toppled Dante

<i> From Associated Press</i>

Dante II was supposed to go where no human could. After it went there and got stuck, a human stood ready to go in and bring the $1.7-million robot back.

The eight-legged machine was walking out of the Mt. Spurr volcano on Friday when it lost its footing 400 feet from the rim and toppled over.

A National Guard helicopter flew to the volcano’s rim on Monday, planning to hook onto the robot’s tether and hoist the 1,700-pound robot free. Low clouds prevented any retrieval Monday, but the crew planned to try again today.

If all else failed, plans were for geologist John Paskievitch to go down into the crater and attach a hoist sling by hand.


For a time, scientists considered leaving Dante in the volcano, but Paskievitch said that wasn’t right.

“It shouldn’t be discarded,” the Alaska Volcano Observatory scientist said. “If you take it in, you should bring it out.”

Scientists from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., designed Dante for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which hopes someday to explore other planets with robots.

One reason Dante went into the volcano to perform geological tests was that Mt. Spurr has been deemed too dangerous for people to enter since it erupted in 1992.


But on Monday, officials played down some of the dangers.

The crater isn’t hot, it isn’t venting any scalding liquids and there is plenty of oxygen in the section where Paskievitch would be, said Terry Keith, the volcano observatory’s head scientist.

Paskievitch, who has gone into Mt. Spurr before, would need only climbing ropes and a helmet, Keith said.

But there is a serious danger of falling rocks, and if Paskievitch did go in, he would be accompanied by another geologist. One would watch for avalanches while the other worked on the robot.