The Man Who Saved the World
September 26, 1983 - It was on this day that Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces, made a decision that may have averted a nuclear war - and possibly the end of the world as we know it.
It was Petrov's duty to watch and analyze data coming from satellites that were designed to detect a nuclear attack. When his console lit up with what appeared to be 5 inbound missiles, the correct protocol was to relay the information up the chain of command so that a retaliatory attack could be launched.
Petrov sensed that the attack was a false alarm. He reasoned that a real American attack would be much larger. He also didn't trust the new tracking system he was using as it had been prone to errors. Finally, since ground radar was unable to corroborate the satellite data, Petrov was convinced the information was bogus.
A subsequent investigation vindicated Petrov's gutsy decision, as it turned out the satellite was fooled by a trick of the light reflecting off high-altitude clouds.
At first Petrov was praised for his actions, but later his superiors simply hushed up any talk of the incident. It turns out there were too many high-ranking officials who would be embarrassed by the revelation that their defence systems were so faulty.
Petrov was reassigned to a low-profile post and took an early retirement. He also suffered a nervous breakdown.
In 2006 Petrov was honored at the United Nations where he received a special World Citizen Award. He died in 2017.