stanislav petrov saves the world

back at base, bugs in the software
flash the message: something’s out there…

Twenty-seven years ago today, a man named Stanislav Petrov saved the entire world.

Petrov was a Lieutenant Colonel working in a top-secret Soviet nuclear defense bunker outside of Moscow. One of his co-workers called out sick, and he got stuck working a double shift.

Shortly after midnight on September 26 (in his time zone), the early-warning system activated. An American warhead was incoming. Petrov’s training and military protocol said that the only response was to issue the order to trigger a full-scale nuclear counterassault on the United States: it was the era of Mutually Assured Destruction. He dismissed the single projectile as a computer glitch. Several minutes later, four more missiles appeared on the radar screen. Again, Petrov decided against notifying his superiors, determining that the ear-piercing sirens were, again, a false alarm.

He had no empirical evidence for not issuing a world-altering order. In the aftermath of the night’s events, he was quickly demoted and shuffled off into less sensitive areas. But twenty-seven years ago today, the dumb luck that caused one man to miss work—and another man’s instinct—saved your life, and mine.

Thank you, Comrade Petrov!

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