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Russian Submarine Officer Who May Have Averted Nuclear War Will Be Awarded First Future of Life Prize

Fifty-five years ago, a Soviet submarine officer’s cool head may have prevented World War III. Now, the late hero—Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, who died in 1998 at the age of 72—will be awarded with a posthumous prize that acknowledges his actions, The Guardian reports.

As National Geographic recounts, Arkhipov was 34 years old in 1962, and on a secret submarine mission in the Caribbean. The Cuban Missile Crisis was in full force, and no sea traffic was allowed through the island’s waters. But the U.S. Navy spotted the sub, and began attacking it with depth charges.

What the U.S. Navy didn’t know was that the Russians had a tactical nuclear torpedo onboard. The Russian officers hadn’t heard from Moscow in days, but they’d already received permission to use their deadly weapon if needed. Believing that war was imminent, the submarine’s commander, Valentin Savitsky, decided to fire at one of 11 nearby Navy ships.

“We’re gonna blast them now!” Savitsky exclaimed, according to a report from the U.S. National Security Archive. “We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not become the shame of the fleet.”

Savitsky ordered the nuclear missile readied, and his second-in-command gave the go-ahead. That’s when Arkhipov—who was Savitsky’s equal in rank—came in and talked him down. The officer explained that the depth charges were off-target, and were actually the U.S. Navy’s way of asking them to surface. He refused to approve the missile’s launch—and without his sign-off, the initiative was a no-go.

To commemorate the fateful events from October 27, 1962, the Future of Life Institute—a U.S.-based organization that supports “research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future,” according to its website—will present Arkhipov’s family members with its $50,000 “Future of Life” prize.

“The Future of Life award is a prize awarded for a heroic act that has greatly benefited humankind, done despite personal risk and without being rewarded at the time,” Max Tegmark, an MIT physics professor and head of the Future of Life Institute, said in a statement quoted by The Guardian.

However, Arkhipov’s descendants believe that his actions were driven by duty rather than heroism.

“He acted like a man who knew what kind of disasters can come from radiation,” said Elena Andriukova, Arkhipov's granddaughter. “He did his part for the future so that everyone can live on our planet.”

[h/t The Guardian]

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NSW Transport
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Australians Vote to Name New Sydney Harbor Boat 'Ferry McFerryface'
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NSW Transport

Proving that some jokes never die (or at least take a little longer to reach the Land Down Under), Sydney has a new ferry named Ferry McFerryface, according to BBC News.

For the uninitiated, the name Ferry McFerryface pays homage to an English practical joke from 2016. It all started when the UK's Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) made global headlines after launching an online poll to name a nearly $300 million polar research ship. Leading the vote by a significant margin was the moniker “Boaty McBoatface.”

For a short period, it seemed as though jokesters would pull off their naming coup. But once the competition reached its end, government officials ultimately decided to override the poll. They named the research ship RSS Sir David Attenborough instead, although they did agree to give the name Boaty McBoatface to one of its submarines.

Sydney recently held a similar competition to name a fleet of six new harbor ferries, and the results were announced in mid-November. Locals submitted more than 15,000 names, and winning submissions included the names of esteemed Australian doctors, prominent Aboriginal Australians, and—yes—Ferry McFerryface, according to the Associated Press. Boaty McBoatface also came out on top, but it was struck down.

“Given ‘Boaty’ was already taken by another vessel, we’ve gone with the next most popular name nominated by Sydneysiders,” said Andrew Constance, the New South Wales minister for transport and infrastructure, in a statement. “Ferry McFerryface will be the harbor’s newest icon and I hope it brings a smile to the faces of visitors and locals alike.”

[h/t BBC News]

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Darren McCollester, Stringer, Getty Images
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How One New York Town Is Preparing for the Next Hurricane Sandy
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Darren McCollester, Stringer, Getty Images

This past Sunday marked five years since Hurricane Sandy made landfall over the northeastern U.S. While the towns hit hardest by the storm are using the time as an opportunity to reflect on the lives, homes, and landscapes that were destroyed, they’re also continuing to prepare for the next mega-storm that will reach their shores. One beach town in Staten Island, New York is investing in a strategy that’s especially innovative: As Mother Jones reports, the surge barrier that’s being erected off the shores of Tottenville will repurpose nature to provide protection from natural disasters.

The government-funded project, called Living Breakwaters, is the brainchild of MacArthur Genius and landscape architect Kate Orff. Rather than building a conventional seawall, Orff and her firm envision a “living piece of infrastructure” containing an oyster reef that will continue to grow and respond to its environment even after construction ends. During a harsh storm, the breakwater would absorb the impact of dangerous waves barreling toward shore. It also has the potential to preserve the environment in the long term by decreasing erosion and wave activity.

Because Living Breakwaters is designed to act as part of its environment, it offers a few benefits in addition to flood protection. The creatures that make their homes on the reef will eventually purify the waters around them and make the shores of Tottenville cleaner and healthier. The reef will also be more discreet and pleasing to look at than a harsh concrete wall, meaning Tottenville residents can enjoy their clear ocean views without having to sacrifice safety.

The project is still in its preliminary stages, with construction scheduled to start in 2019 and wrap up in 2021. Rather than relying entirely on an experimental method, the community is integrating the breakwaters into a larger flood protection plan. Some tools, like wave-blocking sand dunes, will also take advantage of the area’s natural resources.

[h/t Mother Jones]

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