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Helicopter Fails to Lift Dante Out of Volcano as Cable Snaps

<i> From Associated Press</i>

An effort to lift NASA’s crippled Dante II robot from a volcano by helicopter failed Tuesday when the cable snapped, dropping the machine farther down the crater. A scientist on the ground fell and broke his ankle.

Scientists debated whether to go to their backup plan--sending a person into the crater to put a helicopter sling around Dante--or abandon the $1.7-million spider-like robot altogether, as was suggested when Dante first got stuck.

The eight-legged Dante was damaged Friday when it slipped on rocks while trying to climb out of the crater.

Dante’s half-inch-thick, Kevlar-reinforced power cable snapped when a National Guard Blackhawk helicopter tried to lift the robot by the cord.

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The cable had served as a tether holding the robot to the crater’s rim and as a way for scientists to power and communicate with the robot. It had undergone tests designed to ensure that it was strong enough to carry the 1,700-pound robot.

After the cable broke, the helicopter was assigned to take Tim Hegadorn, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student, to the hospital. Hegadorn, 32, slipped on the crater’s rim during the retrieval attempt and broke his ankle.

He said he lost his footing in mud and rock.

Dante was developed at Carnegie Mellon for NASA, which hopes someday to explore planets with robots.

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Dante was brought to Mt. Spurr, 80 miles west of Anchorage, to test its ability to explore terrain deemed unsafe for humans and to collect scientific information from the volcano, which erupted three times in 1992.


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