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NASA Mars Exploration Program

Down the Thrihnukagigur volcano, a deeper look at Iceland

It was a small five-passenger elevator, the sort of open-scaffold, spool-cabled rig that lowers professional window washers down skyscrapers. There's nowhere else on Earth where they lower volcano sightseers. After a few jolts and near-scrapes against the steep surface opening, we descended in the lift's alternate speeds, slow and very slow. At 100 feet down the crater's ever-widening dome, I was thankful we wore helmets and safety harnesses inside the metal cage. We were still a dizzying height above the dormant lava chamber's floor, 300 feet over our destination. Falling to the rocks below would equal diving off the torch of the Statue of Liberty. As we edged down the...