On January 25, 1995, four years after the official collapse of the USSR, the US and Russia plunged into a second temporary Cold War. A team of Norwegian and US scientists launched the Black Brank X11 four-stage rocket from the Andoya Space Centre in Norway. The purpose of the mission was to send scientific equipment to study the Northern Lights, flying on a trajectory that stretched from North Dakota to Moscow.
The rocket eventually reached an altitude of 903 miles, resembling a US Navy submarine-launched Trident missile, putting Russian nuclear forces on high alert of an attack.
As the rocket gained speed, it was detected by the Olenegorsk early-warning radar station in Murmansk Oblast, Russia.
After stage separation, the rocket launch appeared to the Russians to resemble Multiple Reentry Vehicles, as scientists did not realise the launching rocket was heading to sea.
Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President at the time, ordered for the Cheget – the Russian nuclear briefcase – to be brought to his office and requested the nuclear codes necessary.
Yeltsin activated his nuclear keys and Russian submarine commanders were ordered to go into a state of combat readiness.
Tracking the trajectory took eight of the 10 minutes allotted to the process of deciding whether to launch a nuclear response to an impending attack.
Thankfully, with just two minutes to spare, observers were able to determine that the mission was heading away from Russian airspace and was not a threat.
The rocket fell to Earth as planned, near the islands of Spitsbergen, 24 minutes after launch.
However, the incident should have never occurred.
On December 5, 1965, just three years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, A United States Navy Douglas A-4E Skyhawk attack aircraft fell off the side of aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga while sailing through the Philippine Sea.
The pilot, Lieutenant Douglas M Webster, the plane, and the B43 nuclear bomb on board all fell into the water, 68 miles from the coast of Kikai Island, Japan.
However, it was not until 1989 that the Pentagon admitted the loss of a one-megaton hydrogen bomb.
William M. Arkin of the liberal Institute for Policy Studies claimed in 1989: “For 24 years, the US Navy has covered up the most politically sensitive accident that has ever taken place.
“The Navy kept the true details of this accident a secret not only because it demonstrates their disregard for the treaty stipulations of foreign governments but because of the questions it raises about nuclear weapons aboard ships in Vietnam.”