Self-destruct is a mechanism (protocol or device) that can cause an object to destroy itself within a predefined set of circumstances. The self-destruct mechanism is usually the most complete way to destroy the object. For that reason the self-destruct mechanism can be used to destroy objects that are meant to be discarded.
Self-destruct mechanisms are found on devices and systems where malfunction could endanger large numbers of people.
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 after the conflict's end. The Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), amended in 1996, requires that anti-personnel land mines deactivate and self-destruct, and sets standards for both. Land mines currently used by the United States military are designed to self-destruct between 4 hours and 15 days depending upon the type. The land mines have a battery and when the battery dies, the land mine self-destructs. The self-destruct system never failed in over 67,000 tested land mines in a variety of conditions. Not all self-destruct mechanisms are absolutely reliable, and most land mines that have been laid throughout history are not equipped to self-destruct. Land mines can also be designed to self-deactivate, for instance by a battery running out of a charge, but deactivation is considered a different mechanism from self-destruction.
For example, the Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Boosters are equipped with explosive charges so that the boosters can be destroyed in the event that control is lost on launch and a populated area is in danger. 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 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.
Self-destruct mechanisms are sometimes employed to prevent an apparatus or information from being used by unauthorized persons in the event of loss or capture. 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.
Use in fiction
Self-destruct mechanisms are frequent plot devices in science fiction stories. such as those in the Star Trek fictional universe. They are applied to military installations and spaceships which would be too valuable to allow enemy capture. An artificial intelligence may invoke self-destruct due to cognitive dissonance. In many such stories, such a mechanism causes massive destruction in a large area, obliterating the object protected by the device. Often the characters have a limited amount of time to escape the destruction or to disable the self-destruct, creating story tension.
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