On September 26th, 1983, Stanislav Petrov saved yo

copied from FARK

Posted: Feb 24 2006, 09:26 PM

The day everything almost ended sad.gif

The Man Who Saved the World
If you've never heard of Stanislav Petrov, you need to become acquainted. Why? Because there is a strong possibility that he saved your life.

On September 26th, 1983, Soviet Army Lt. Col Petrov settled into his command chair at the top secret Serpukhov-15 bunker outside of Moscow. Serpukhov-15's mission was similiar to the United States' NORAD, serving as the Soviet Union's central hub for the early warning satellites used to detect an inbound nuclear strike.

At roughly 30 minutes past midnight, Serpukhov-15's warning alarms erupted, indicating that an American ICBM was headed towards the Soviet mainland. Petrov knew that the Russian early warning system had a history of flaws, and dismissed the alarm as a glitch.

Then the computer signalled another inbound missile, and another, and another, adding up to a total of 5 inbound ICBMs, all MIRV capable (multiple independently-guided reentry vehicles....in layman's terms each missile had 3-10 nuclear warheads each, with each warhead with its own specific target).

Petrov later recalled the tension Serpukhov-15's control room:

I was supposed to supervise the combat crew. When the first launch happened, everyone was stupefied. After the first launch, I started giving orders, because in the room below, where there were five switchboards, and all the operators jumped out of their seats to see what my reaction was. I can only imagine what went on at the other posts.

In front of Petrov flashed a bright red button, blinking "START." He had two options: call the alarm a computer glitch -which would be a direct violation of his orders- and risk losing the USSR's retaliatory options, or press "START" and unleash hell.

In February of 1999, the Washington Post reported on the grave implications of pressing the "START" button:
Usually, Petrov said, one report of a lone rocket launch did not immediately go up the chain to the general staff and the electronic command system there, known as Krokus. But in this case, the reports of a missile salvo were coming so quickly that an alert had already gone to general staff headquarters automatically, even before he could judge if they were genuine. A determination by the general staff was critical because, at the time, the nuclear "suitcase" that gives a Soviet leader a remote-control role in such decisions was still under development.

The Post illustrated the enormous amount of stress that Petrov was under during the crisis, as:
electronic maps and consoles were flashing as he held a phone in one hand and juggled an intercom in the other, trying to take in all the information at once. Another officer at the early-warning facility was shouting into the phone to him to remain calm and do his job.

Petrov signalled the Soviet Rocket Forces and tenet commands: "false alarm." Petrov's gut instinct was right on the money, one of the USSR's space based warning satellites experienced a computer glitch that set off the klaxons at Serpukhov-15. Petrov said:
I just couldn’t believe that just like that, all of a sudden, someone would hurl five missiles at us. Five missiles wouldn’t wipe us out. The U.S. had not five, but a thousand missiles in battle readiness.

On the potential end-of-the-world scenario, Petrov said:
I imagined if I’d assume the responsibility for unleashing the third World War — and I said, no, I wouldn’t.
Petrov's decision came during a period of incredibly high Cold War tensions. Just a few weeks beforehand, the Soviet Union had downed Korean Airlines Flight 007, the incident that intiated the "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative and prompted President Reagan to label the USSR the "Evil Empire."

Although Petrov's decision was labeled technically correct by his superiors, he was forced through a rigorous questioning after-action evaluation that lasted months. The incident made Petrov politicaly unreliable in the eyes of the army brass, which -in the centralized Soviet system- was career ending.

Today "the man who saved the world" lives barely above the poverty line in the former Soviet Union, subsisting on his tiny Army pension. He was honored for his decision in 1999 by a San Francisco based non-profit Association of World Citizens, who presented him with an award and a modest monetary sum.

The US experienced a similiar incident to the USSR's close-call, where a clumsy Air Force officer left a simulation tape running in NORAD's computer systems, prompting the ICBM force to begin prepping their missiles and sending bomber crews on alert rushing to their aircraft.

For more on this, check out the OC's Top 20 Nuclear Close Calls.
Posted: Feb 24 2006, 09:38 PM

is it scary to anyone else that a "computer glitch" can mistakingly look like 5 incoming warheads?

Posted: Feb 24 2006, 10:04 PM
shit, that was a good read. thumbs.gif