September 26, 1983 — Stanislav Petrov’s cool head prevents nuclear war

Lieutenant Colonal Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov was a 44 year old officer in the Army of the Soviet Union whose assignment was to monitor the early warning systems at Serpukhov-15 base, near Moscow.

Not long after midnight on September 26, 1983, Petrov was alerted to what appeared to be an American first strike, with a single nuclear missile reported to be incoming. Only three weeks earlier, the Soviet Union had shot down a commercial jet near Korea, and tensions between the USA and USSR were running high. His orders required him to pass along the warning, but Petrov hesitated. Something didn’t feel right about this to him.

Petrov concluded that a true first strike would involve hundreds of missiles fired simultaneously, with the intention of wiping out the USSR’s capacity to retaliate. A single missile made no sense – and there were already doubts about the reliability of the early warning systems. Petrov therefore reasoned – correctly – that the missile alert was caused by a computer error, and should be ignored.

In doing so, he prevented a nuclear war from breaking out in 1983, and potentially rendering the planet uninhabitable to the majority of its species, including us. The man is a hero, and should be feted around the world for the good judgement and personal integrity he displayed in this matter. Instead, hardly anyone knows his name – but at least now you do.

June 18, 1983 — Sally Ride becomes the first American woman in space

When the Space Shuttle Challenger launched on June 18, 1983 on mission STS-7, Sally Kristen Ride, age 32, became the first American woman in space as a crew member. (She was third overall, behind the Soviets Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982.)

Ride was selected by NASA in 1978, after answering a newspaper advertisement for the space program – 8900 other people also answered it. On her first mission, she was one of a five member crew who deployed two communications satellites and conducted pharmaceutical experiments. Ride rode again in 1984, again on the Challenger, and after the Challenger exploded on takeoff, she was a member of the Presidential Committee charged with investigating the mishap.

Sally Ride (1984).jpg
By NASA; retouched by <a href=”//” title=”User talk:Coffeeandcrumbs”>Coffeeandcrumbs</a> – <a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=””>Description page</a> (<a rel=”nofollow” class=”external text” href=””>direct image link</a>), Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

We Didn’t Start the Fire — Billy Joel

March 8, 1983 — Ronald Reagan labels Soviet Russia an “Evil Empire”

Ronald Reagan was, it’s fair to say, something of an ideologue. And that quality was never more on display than the day when he addressed the 41st Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals. It was in this speech that he labelled the USSR both an ‘evil empire’ and also ‘the focus of evil in the modern world’. Reagan liked to portray himself as living in a simple world of absolutes, of good and evil. (In truth, the man, his worldview and the actual world were also significantly more complex than that.)

In a prideful speech, he decried the temptation of pride, which in his construction, would have meant disagreeing with him. His conservative base lapped it up, but the speech heightened tensions in the Cold War. Five years later, when meeting with new Soviet leader Gorbachev, Reagan walked back his earlier words, saying that his opinion had changed. So perhaps he was better able to resist the temptation of pride than he’s given credit for.

41st Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals.jpg
By Unknown author or not provided – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Link

As mentioned in:

Russians — Sting