Robot's descent into volcano halted by glitch

January 02, 1993

GREENBELT -- A spidery robot named Dante began inching its way down into an Antarctic volcano yesterday in a daring New Year's display of technology delayed earlier by cold weather and an unexpected eruption.

But a computer glitch at the project's base camp brought Dante to a halt after the vehicle had traveled only about 21 feet. The setback dampened the initial excitement over the descent.

"Everybody watching it here is real excited," said Randee Exler, a spokeswoman at the Goddard Space Flight Center where scientists gathered to watch TV pictures transmitted by the robot.

"We're not seeing a whole lot of anything, but we can see movement," she said shortly after the center began receiving satellite transmissions from the site in the early afternoon, about 12 hours after the robot began moving.

By midafternoon, the 8-foot tall, spider-legged machine had traveled about 21 feet before a computer problem at the Antarctic base camp caused scientists to stop it, NASA officials said.

They said scientists in Antarctica were able to restart the computer but were proceeding cautiously because they had not pinpointed the cause of the problem.

Dante, laden with scientific gear and cameras, was to have started its stroll into the volcano's crater Thursday morning, directed by researchers in a hut more than one mile away. But weather and the restive volcano interfered.

A minor eruption shuddered through Mount Erebus as Dante sat at the rim of the crater. The robot wasn't damaged, but clouds of gases made it hard to see.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists decided to wait until the air cleared before allowing the robot to lower itself on a fiber-optic umbilical 700 feet down the side of the crater.

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