A self-destruct is a mechanism which causes a device to destroy itself under a predefined set of circumstances.
Self-destruct mechanisms are found on devices and systems where malfunction could endanger large numbers of people. The Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster rockets, for example, are equipped with explosive charges so that the boosters can be destroyed in the event that they go out of control on launch and endanger a populated area. This feature can be seen in videos of the Challenger disaster. After the initial disintegration of the shuttle, the two solid rocket boosters continued firing until they had exploded simultaneously 37 seconds later. This occurred when the Range Safety Officer decided that the separated boosters had the potential to endanger those on the ground and activated the self-destruct system.
Some types of modern land mines are designed to self-destruct, or chemically render themselves inert after a period of weeks or months to reduce the likelihood of friendly casualties during the conflict or civilian casualties at the conflict's end. However, these self-destruct mechanisms are not absolutely reliable, and most land mines laid historically are not equipped in this manner.
Self-destruct mechanisms are sometimes employed to prevent an apparatus or information from being used by unauthorised persons in the event that it is lost or stolen. For example they may be found in high-security data storage devices (e.g. IronKey), where it is important for the data to be destroyed to prevent compromise.
If the self-destruct mechanism is present, activating it is usually the most complete way to destroy the device. Such mechanisms are normally allowed to do their work also if the device (or larger unit, containing it) will be later additionally destroyed by hand, fire or similar means.
Use in fiction
Self-destruct mechanisms are a frequently-seen plot device in science fiction stories. Self-destructs in fiction have been seen on military installations, spaceships, and in an artificial intelligence, destroying itself due to cognitive dissonance. In many such stories, after a time limit is reached, a large explosion will occur, destroying everything around the site. This is a well-used method of creating tension as the characters would have a limited (usually short) amount of time to escape or to disable the self-destruct.
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