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]

Tune in Tonight: Mental Floss on Jeopardy!

All that time you've spent on here is about to pay off.

Tune in tonight for Jeopardy! and you'll catch the debut of the "I Learned It From Mental Floss" category. Big bucket list moment for us.

We've been working closely with the Jeopardy! team over on Instagram, sharing amazing facts on both @jeopardy and @mental_floss. Study up!

Check your local listings for stations and show times.

Millennials Get Blamed for a Lot, But They Could Help to Save the U.S. Postal Service

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iStock

Millennials get a bad rap for destroying everything from homeownership rates to fabric softener sales, but there's one important traditional industry they're enthusiastic about: the U.S. Postal Service. According to CityLab, a new USPS report [PDF] finds that young people's appreciation for snail mail could help boost the often-struggling agency's fortunes in the future.

Probing for insights into the minds of young people ages 18 to 34 (a little off from the Pew Research Center's definition of Millennials as being people ages 22 to 37), the USPS conducted surveys and hosted live chats online to figure out what Millennials think of the agency, and how the Postal Service can ignite their love of snail mail.

That's vital, because as it is, technological innovations like email and online bill payments are putting the USPS out of business. It lost money for the 11th year in a row in 2017, and while shipping packages is getting more popular (thank you, online shopping habits), it hasn't been enough to offset the decline of mail during that year—mail rates declined by 50 billion pieces in 2017. Young people ages 18 to 34 received an average of 17 pieces of mail each week in 2001, while they only receive 10 now.

But Millennials, it turns out, love mail, even if they don't want to pay their bills with it. As the report observes, "many Millennials still delight in receiving personalized notes or cards around holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions." Three-quarters of respondents said that getting personalized mail from friends and family "makes them feel special." According to the report, around 80 percent of Millennials say they're satisfied with the USPS, around the same rate as older, stamp-loving generations. More Millennials than Boomers, meanwhile, have a USPS.com account, and 59 percent say that the USPS is an innovative organization.

Millennials mentioned several ideas for USPS improvements that already basically exist, like self-service kiosks, at-home package pickup, and Informed Delivery emails, meaning the Postal Service isn't always the best at getting the word out about the cool things it already does. The report also shows that the Postal Service is still working on an augmented reality service that could give you a look at what's inside a package before you open it. (The idea debuted in 2016, but the app was largely limited to showing animated messages.)

The surveys and discussions did come up with a new idea to endear the post office to Millennials: a rewards program. The young people surveyed suggested that members could earn points by buying stamps or mailing packages and use them to redeem discounts or enter contests.

Millennials: They may be ruining vacations, but at least they're ready to save the mail.

[h/t CityLab]

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