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Things you can do at work

Just weeks earlier the Soviets, led at the time by Yuri Andropov, had shot down a Korean airliner that strayed into Russian airspace, killing all passengers and crew. But Petrov went with his instinct and, minutes before the US nukes were due to strike, the five dots on the radar disappeared into thin air. Eventually everyone would simply vanish and our planet would turn into a vast desert. It was pure chance that Petrov was even on duty that night, covering for a sick colleague. Another man may have lacked the courage of his convictions and sent the world into war.

Instead of being rewarded for saving the world, he was reprimanded for not filling out forms to document the crisis correctly. A reward would have meant blame would fall elsewhere, including on those who spent billions on a defence system that did not work properly.

50 people who could save the planet

Petrov was ushered out of the army to work for the team who developed the early-warning system, but had to quit to nurse his wife, who was seriously ill with brain cancer. They became so poor they survived by eating onions they grew in a window box at their flat in a run-down block in a rough suburb of Moscow, and boiling his belt to give taste to cups of watery soup.

When a journalist arrived at his door in , asking about that night, Petrov refused to speak to him at first, afraid he was being tested by his former military employers. She was very, very surprised. He was also presented with a special award at the United Nations by the Association of World Citizens.

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But still he died in poverty at home in Fryazino in May, though his death was only announced this month. By Warren Manger Features Writer.

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We sent a man to the moon. Now let's save our planet: Our view

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