A self-destruct is a mechanism which causes a device to destroy itself under a predefined set of circumstances. Self-destruct mechanisms are sometimes found in high-security data storage devices, where it is important for the data to be destroyed to prevent compromise.

Self-destruct mechanisms are also 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 explode 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.

The naval procedure of scuttling is used to destroy a ship or ships to prevent them from being seized and/or reverse-engineered.

Use in fiction

Self-destruct mechanisms are a common plot device in science fiction stories. The frequency of occurrence has caused it to become a cliché, or a plot device. Commonly, self-destructs in fiction are seen on military installations, spaceships or the theme of an artificial intelligence destroying itself due to cognitive dissonance (see Does not compute).

  • Abadox: The Deadly Inner War: After the player destroys the game's final boss, he will get to another stage, like a tunnel. In this very last level, he is holding an orb of unknown origin. The main computer initiates the Living Planet's self-destruct sequence. When this happens, the player must fly through the planet's escape tunnel, dodging the walls and other obstacles (There are no enemies in this last level). When the player's escape from the planet is successful, the screen shows a spaceship flying away from the Living Planet as it explodes in a supernova.
  • Alien : Lieutenant Ripley activates a self-destruct mechanism on Commercial Towing Vessel Nostromo in order to destroy a monster that wiped out her entire crew.
  • The Andromeda Strain: The laboratory where the story takes place is equipped with a nuclear device capable of destroying the facility, this device activates automatically and can only be disarmed by the team member specified according to The Odd Man Hypothesis.
  • Babylon 5: The crew of the Minbari war cruiser Trigati in the Babylon 5 episode "Points of Departure" destroyed their vessel rather than surrender to another Minbari war cruiser demanding their surrender.
  • Batman: Return of the Joker: When Batman finally defeats the Joker and his ultimate weapon (the final boss of the game), the main computer initiates the self-destruct sequence for the Joker's island base. Batman flies away in his trusty Batjet as the base explodes.
  • Bionic Commando: This happens at the end of the game after the main character shoots his bazooka at the cockpit of Hitler's escape helicopter. He has 60 seconds to get out of the base before the explosion burns him to a crisp.
  • Crystalis: This happens at the end of the game after Crystalis gets thrown into the main reactor. The two heroes then escape and the screen shows the Tower in the Sky getting struck by lightning before falling to the surface of the Earth.
  • Descent: The goal for every mission is to locate the reactor and destroy it. Doing so will initiate the self-destruct sequence. The player must locate the exit before the countdown ends in order to successfully complete the mission.
  • Dark Knight : After the Batmobile has suffered a great deal of damage , the Batman engages its escape mechanism, converting the front wheels into the Batpod before the rest of the vehicle self-destructs.
  • For Your Eyes Only: A form of Self Destruct is used to destroy ATAC, a coding machine used by the British Government. However, when the spy ship on which is it is housed was fatally struck by a mine, the crew were unable to activate it.
  • Halo: Combat Evolved: The final mission in the game involves the player purposely sabotaging the Pillar of Autumn's engines so it will self-destruct and destroy Halo.
  • The James Bond movies: Aston Martin is fitted with a self destruct mechanism.
  • Lifeline: The waitress Rio, who you as the operator used your voice to come to rescue you, sets the Japan Space Hotel to self-destruct to destroy the accursed Green Stones that can cause any humans to mutate into intense grotesque monsters.
  • Lost: The Swan station has a "Fail-safe" button that causes the station to self-destruct by implosion, to control the electromagnetic field anomaly behind the wall. This is a last option if the computer for pushing the button is destroyed. This happens at the end of Season 2. Also, the Flame station can be destroyed in the event of its capture by hostile forces. This is accomplished through entering the number 77 in a computer, which detonates several explosive charges in the basement.
  • The Metroid series: Most games require the player to escape from a place (usually the game's first level) after activating its self-destruct countdown. In Super Metroid, there are two scenes, involving a space station and an entire planet. In Metroid Prime Hunters, the first trip to each of the four planets ended this way.
  • Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: (Alpha 5 activating his self-destruct program to save himself from Primator)
  • Mission: Impossible films: "This tape will self-destruct in ten seconds.". In Mission: Impossible 2, the tape is replaced with sophisticated sunglasses. In Mission: Impossible 3, the glasses are replaced with a disguised disposable camera. Both devices self-destruct in the same manner.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Heero Yuy detonates his gundam each time he fails a mission.
  • Pokémon games: All versions have a pair of moves called "Self-Destruct" and "Explosion", which cause the Pokémon (Especially Voltorb and Electrode) using the move to sacrifice itself to cause massive damage to the opponent.
  • Power Rangers: Turbo: The Rangers self-destruct the Rescue Megazord in a failed attempt to destroy the monster Goldgoyle.
  • Predator: All warriors of the predator race have a powerful self-destruct mechanism in their wrist computers.
  • Red Dwarf: Episode "Body Swap".
  • Resident Evil: Nearly every game ends with a self-destruct sequence.
  • Robinson Crusoe on Mars: When Commander Christopher 'Kit' Draper discovers the remains of a murdered man showing him that he is not as alone on Mars as he thought, he transmits a destruct signal to his orbiting ship.
  • Silkworm: After the player destroys MH-C2, the artificial brain, he says, "This base will go up in smoke in 30 seconds. Say your prayers." The two choppers fly out of MH-C2's base as it explodes in a huge ball of flames.
  • Spaceballs: Almost averted except for an out of order override switch. Upon discovering this, the character of Colonel Sandruz yelled, "Out of order!?", followed by Dark Helmet who cursed and exclaimed "Even in the future nothing works!".
  • Stargate SG-1: Where Cheyenne Mountain is equipped with a bomb.
  • Star Trek: In Star Trek, starships are commonly equipped with an auto-destruct mechanism, both Federation starships and on the ships of other races. On Federation starships this option is open to the senior officers on the starship as a form of scuttling in case the starship falls into enemy hands or becomes unworkable for some reason. It has also used as a form of kamikaze weapon, turning the starship into a powerful bomb. It usually is set with a time delay, so that crew could escape via the transporter or escape pods. The auto-destruct has been activated several times, once indeed resulting in the destruction of the ship (in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock). As twists to the multiple uses of this plot device it has been employed with a silent countdown (Star Trek: First Contact), and there was one instance where the mechanism malfunctioned and wouldn't commence the sequence to destroy the ship (Star Trek Nemesis).
  • StarTropics At the end of the game, a message says, "Alert! Alert! You have no time!" It means that the giant ship's main computer has initiated the self-destruct sequence. The main character and his comrades make a daring escape for the ship as it explodes in a giant ball of flames.
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back: Han Solo states "I didn't hit it that hard- it must have had a self-destruct" after having shot an Imperial Probe Droid on Hoth.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project: This happens after the Ninja Turtles defeat Super Shredder, the final boss of the game. The Turtles escape from Krang's spaceship as its main reactor explodes, tearing the ship apart.

In lighter or humorous fiction (such as cartoons and superhero films), the self destruct button is a ubiquitous component in any self-respecting mad scientist's machines. Rather than requiring authorization or procedure, it simply is a button that, when pushed, will cause the machine to self-destruct, frequently destroying the entire structure or complex it is housed in. The often complete uselessness (and danger) of such a device (except to a good guy) is possibly one of the many reasons a mad scientist is known as 'mad'. Likewise, in Inspector Gadget, Chief Quimby gives Gadget each episode's mission on self-destructing paper; inevitably, Gadget carelessly disposes of the paper, often over his shoulder, and it detonates in the Chief's hiding place.

See also


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