Nuclear NearMisses

Based on the Article:

Fascinating article. Being 7 at the time, I was totally unaware anything went down at all, and had only heard Able Archer mentioned in passing.

There is another “near miss” that I heard about, and wondered if anyone here can give me the dope on that…

I read that after the Cold War officially “ended,” Yeltsin was once alerted that there was a nuke heading toward russia. It was actually some sort of utility rocket, either launching a satellite, or doing some high-atmosphere research, launched from (if memory serves) somewhere in scandanavia.

The Parties involved had warned the Russians that this rocket would be launched, and that it was benign, but somehow the message hadn’t properly propogated, and Yeltsin was given what ammounts to the Russian version of what the US refers to as “The Football.”

Apparently, someone (maybe even Yeltsin) was watching a radar image of this missle track closer and closer towards russia, and Yeltzin, a known alcoholic, basically had the future of humanity resting in his fingers. Before he finally went ahead and ordered a retaliatory strike, the missle changed direction in a way showing that it was destined for orbit, not for landstrike, and the situation was over.

I heard about this once, maybe 10 years ago, on a History Channel (or maybe Discovery or TLC) program, and was fascinated by the tale, but never saw any further mention of it anywhere.

The story sounds a tad fantastical, and I’m wondering what the reality within really is. Does anyone have any info on this?



Although I don’t remember hearing anything about Able Archer, I do remember flight 007 going down. My calm, rational mother told me of the news with the statement “The US and the Soviets are at war.”

As a Canadian, living basically in the line of fire from both parties, this was not what I’d call ‘good news.’

Fortunately, it turned out my mother was kind of alarmist.

Big-Ole-Steve, haven’t heard that story. I don’t much about rocketry, but it seems odd to me that a missile heading for orbit would change direction at all.


Any missile being launched into orbit starts with the movement imparted to it my the rotation of the Earth. In just about any case other than a satellite being launched into equatorial orbit from the equator, this has to be corrected. In addition, a missile may have to start its launch the wrong way due to downrange safety concerns.

The incident Big-Ole-Steve is thinking about happened as the result of a rocket launched from the Andøya facility in Northern Norway in January 1995. Many research rockets had already been launched from this base, mostly to study the Northern Lights, and as a courtesy neighboring countries including Russia were routinely informed of upcoming launches. For some reason, that one time, the notice didn’t get to the right people in time and the Russian military went batpoop.

I haven’t been able to find a reliable report of just how far the Russian military went or almost went, but suffice it to say they clearly believed the incident had to be treated as a possible attack. It was rather unnerving to say the least.

Eventually everyone stopped going :confused: :confused: :confused: :eek: :eek: :eek: and started breathing again. Rockets are still going up from Andøya, but now everyone is reeeeeeal careful about getting word out before the rockets go up. Occasionally you’ll still see the “We Almost Started World War 3!” T-shirts around. I think we’ve come far enough that we can look back on it and laugh, but at the time…

What really concerns me this very moment is the fact that the article headline reads, "Was the United States and the Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear war?

Proofreading, people, proofreading! Those verbs aren’t going to agree with their subjects by themselves, you know!


I’m surprised Cecil didn’t mention the incent involving
Stanislav Petrov:

It reads like a real-life incident of the WarGames movie…Petrov notices American nukes headed his way, but he doesn’t trust the computer, and for good reason…the nukes are erroneous simulations caused by glitches in the Russian computers. The story was classified until the late 90’s. Worse, this happened in September 1983…during the midst of heightened tensions, according to Cecil’s article.

By the way, Arslan, congratulations on the 930th Anniversary of your victory at Manzikert. :wink:

Every rocket heading for orbit must change direction at some point, no matter where or how it’s launched from the Earth. If you stay on your original path, you’re on an orbit which intersects the Earth at one point, the launch point. But any closed orbit which intersects the Earth at one point will intersect it at two points. In other words, if you don’t change course, you’re going to crash. So what you do is you get as high as your original orbit will take you, and then use your rocket engines to change orbits to one which won’t intersect the Earth at all.

However, a rocket launched to study the Northern Lights was probably not destined for orbit, but was probably a sounding rocket. Those do indeed stay on their original path, and do indeed intersect the Earth at more than one point. They go up a ways and fall back down, giving you maybe five minutes near the top when you can actually collect data. For such a rocket, the course and eventual landing point are perfectly predictable, given good enough data. What probably happened in that case was that it took a while for the Soviet equivalent of NORAD to gather enough data to determine that it wasn’t heading for Russian territory.

Well there you go. You learn something new everyday.