Hero of the Soviet Union

RSS

A former Soviet officer yesterday was awarded the Dresden Prize for saving the world from nuclear armageddon. On the night of 25-26 September 1983, then Lt.-Col. Stanislav Petrov, commander of a Soviet air defense command bunker close to Moscow, rightly recognized the satellite warning that the United States had launched five intercontinental ballistic missiles against the USSR as a false alarm. He informed the Soviet general staff that it was a false alarm, avoiding a retaliatory strike, because "I didn't want to be blamed for the Third World War."

It turned out that the satellite had mistaken sunlight reflecting off cloud tops for U.S. missiles. The incident was not made public until 10 years later, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is still not officially admitted by Moscow.

Whenever I hear that story, I wonder where we would all be now if Petrov had not used his common sense.

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Aviation Week & Space Technology is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In a series of blogs, our editors highlight editorial content from the magazine's long and rich history.

 

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