National Geophysical Data Center

Go to Crater Peak, AK 
Mount St. Helens 
Nevado del Ruiz 
Mt. Pinatubo 
Veniaminof, AK 

Teachers Guide to Stratovolcanoes of the World
A Fictional Story

noaa logo

Crater Peak, Alaska USA:
           Facts | Story | Feature | Questions

A Fictional Story - Dante Robot

Alexa stood with her dad at the summit of Crater Peak, Alaska. Her long hair fluttered in the stiff breeze. It was July 28, 1994, summer in Alaska, but still cold on the mountaintop. Alexa put her hands in the pockets of her down parka to keep them warm. Her dad and some other men developed a robot named Dante II, a refurbished version of the original Dante that tried to descend into the crater of Mt. Erebus in Antarctica in January 1993. They were going to attempt a descent into Crater Peak with Dante II. The previous mission ended with the first Dante "dying." Its fiber optic cable communications lifeline snapped, 28 feet into the crater. The Alaskan summer was short, so it was important that today's trial work perfectly.

Crater Peak was the ideal place to test Dante II. Mt. Spurr erupted three times in 1992 after lying quiescent for 39 years. Although it had been quiet for almost two years, scientists considered the volcano too dangerous for human exploration. However, a robot could descend and bring back information that might give important clues as to the future activity of Crater Peak. During the five-day exploration, Dante II was supposed to measure temperatures and composition of gases emerging from fissures in the crater floor.

Alexa shuddered as she looked into the crater. "What if this volcano should suddenly wake up?" she wondered.

The crater walls of Crater Peak were nearly vertical and covered with soft ash deposits, loose rock, volcanic bombs, and ice. Dante's progress into the crater was slow. As Alexa and her father watched the slow descent, a large volcanic bomb jarred loose from the rim and tumbled toward the robot. The twisted piece of lava rolled right into Dante's leg, crippling the robot. Dante was able to continue its descent into the crater.

Despite the damage, Dante was able to retrieve gas and water samples. While on the crater floor, Dante took pictures and sent back video for analyses. Since it did not have lungs that could be seared by the gases, Dante could walk right through steam coming out of the cracks and withstand much higher temperatures than a human.

After several days, Dante began its return to the crater rim. Alexa held her breath. Dante had climbed more than 60 m (200 ft) when it lost its footing and fell to the crater floor. The scientists on the rim began a distress call, Alexa looked at the crumpled robot below. Nobody dared to venture down there to rescue the robot. Alexa's dad called a helicopter to airlift Dante out of the crater. The helicopter hovered over the crater while a cable tether was attached to the robot.

Finally, the helicopter began to pull up with Dante attached. The wind was coming up. A strong wind might blow the helicopter into the side of the crater. The robot began to swing wildly as the chopper struggled to maintain its course. The cable was striking the robot's crippled leg. The sharp metal on the crumpled leg was slowly cutting the cable. Alexa watched in horror as the last strand of cable let loose and the robot fell with a crash to the crater floor. After this second fall, there was little left of Dante but a crumpled mass of metal. Alexa and her dad were deeply disappointed. A radio dispatch to their base in Anchorage reported the sad news. The dispatcher was encouraging, however.

"You should see the beautiful pictures Dante sent before it crashed," they said. "Dante truly went where no man could go."

Alexa and her father are fictitious characters, but a robot named Dante II really did explore Crater Peak on Mt. Spurr in Alaska.