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Posted on Nov 19, 2003 in Stuff We Like

A Hero for Peace

Editorial Staff

On September 26th, 1983, at 12:40 AM, a Soviet Oko satellite detected a missile launch from Malmstrom AirForce Base in Montana, the main U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) field. In 20 minutes the missile would impact in Russian territory.

Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov had traded shifts with the officer in charge of computer verification and reporting of missile launches against the Soviet Union.

(Lt. Colonel Stanislav Petrov)

The Soviet strategy was in the event of a missile attack, massive retaliation of the entire missile force would be used. Alarms started to go off and huge red letters spelling START flashed on his computer console. The computer had reported a launch form the US and he had only 10 minutes to verify it. He was only a cog in the wheel but he was one of the most important cogs. He agonized for a few minutes then decided it must be some sort of glitch since, he reasoned, we would not only launch one missile if we were starting a war. Even though he was exceeding his authority he called his superiors and told them it was a computer malfunction.


A few minutes later disaster struck again. The computer was registering 4 more American missile launches at Russia. Again the sirens blared only this time the computers at the Russian supreme command also showed the launches. Again he got on the phone and swore it was only a computer malfunction. His word was accepted.

The whole Russian military watched as the computer showed the missiles nearing Russia. No one was absolutely sure what was going to happen but the Russians had decided to take the chance based on Petrov’s word and finally it was over, there were no missiles

What had happened was the software had misinterpreted the sunlight reflecting off of some clouds as a missile plumes.

Six hours later, a general approached Petrov and berated him, stating he was not worthy of his position. He was removed to a less sensitive position and within one year he was out of the military.

He now lives on a small pension equilivent to $55.00 USD.