The 1980s (pronounced "nineteen-eighties", commonly shortened as the "'80s", pronounced "eighties") was a decade of the Gregorian calendar that began on January 1, 1980, and ended on December 31, 1989.
The incident occurred at a time of severely strained relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. Only three weeks earlier, the Soviet military had shot down a South Korean passenger jet, Korean Air Lines Flight 007, that had strayed into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board.
Bruce Blair, an expert on Cold War nuclear strategies and former president of the World Security Institute in Washington, D.C., says the American–Soviet relationship at that time "had deteriorated to the point where the Soviet Union as a system—not just the Kremlin, not just Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, not just the KGB—but as a system, was geared to expect an attack and to retaliate very quickly to it. It was on hair-trigger alert. It was very nervous and prone to mistakes and accidents. The false alarm that happened on Petrov's watch could not have come at a more dangerous, intense phase in U.S.–Soviet relations." In an interview aired on American television, Blair said, "The Russians [Soviets] saw a U.S. government preparing for a first strike, headed by a President [Ronald Reagan] capable of ordering a first strike." Regarding the incident involving Petrov, he said, "I think that this is the closest our country has come to accidental nuclear war."
On 26 September 1983, Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces, was the officer on duty at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow which housed the command center of the Soviet early warning satellites, code-named Oko. Petrov's responsibilities included observing the satellite early warning network and notifying his superiors of any impending nuclear missile attack against the Soviet Union. If notification was received from the early warning systems that inbound missiles had been detected, the Soviet Union's strategy was an immediate nuclear counter-attack against the United States (launch on warning), specified in the doctrine of mutual assured destruction.
The elder child of Dale Burdell Ride and Carol Joyce (née Anderson), Ride was born in Los Angeles, California. She had one sibling, Karen "Bear" Ride, who is a Presbyterian minister. Both parents were elders in the Presbyterian Church. Ride's mother had worked as a volunteer counselor at a women's correctional facility. Her father had been a political science professor at Santa Monica College.