Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet officer who saved the world from nuclear annihilation, passed away at the age of 77 this year.
On September 26, 1983, Petrov was working at an early warning radar system in a bunker near Moscow when radar detected that the US had launched 5 nuclear missiles at Russia, in a scenario closely resembling two 1960’s movies, Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, both of which presented and warned of a similar scenario.
While many of Petrov’s 200 subordinates panicked, the officer kept his cool.
The response to a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union was obvious – a nuclear counter-strike.
As senior officer at the radar station, Petrov had to decide whether the threat his systems detected was real and warranted retaliation. And he had less than a half hour, the time it would take for the missiles to reach Moscow if they were real, to decide.
Petrov realized that the US would not have fired only five missiles at Russia had it decided to launch an offensive against the Communist nation. If the attack had been real, it would have been an overwhelming first strike offensive from which Russia could not recover.
Petrov informed superiors the threat must have resulted from a systems malfunction, and the retaliation strike was thus never ordered.
An investigation later revealed that Soviet satellites had mistaken a reflection of the sun’s rays off the tops of clouds for missiles.