Former Soviet Air Defense Colonel Stanislav Petrov, the man known for preventing an accidental nuclear launch by the Soviet Union at the height of Cold War tensions, has passed away. Karl Schumacher, a German political activist who first met Petrov in 1998 and helped him visit Germany a year later, published news of Petrov's death after learning from Petrov's son that he had died in May. Petrov was 77.
Petrov's story has since been recounted several times by historians, including briefly in William Taubman's recent biography of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Gorbachev: His Life and Times. Ars also wrote about Petrov in our 2015 feature on Exercise Able Archer. On the night of September 26, 1983, Petrov was watch officer in charge of the Soviet Union's recently completed US-KS nuclear launch warning satellite network, known as "Oko" (Russian for "eye"). To provide instant warning of an American nuclear attack, the system was supposed to catch the flare of launching missiles as they rose.
That night, just past midnight, the Oko system signaled that a single US missile had been launched. "When I first saw the alert message, I got up from my chair," Petrov told RT in a 2010 interview. "All my subordinates were confused, so I started shouting orders at them to avoid panic. I knew my decision would have a lot of consequences."