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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 containing it. 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. 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 danger is posed to 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 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 after the conflict's end. These self-destruct mechanisms are not absolutely reliable, and most land mines laid historically are not equipped in this manner.
Another form of a self-destruct can be seen in the naval procedure of scuttling, which is used to destroy a ship or ships to prevent them from being seized and/or reverse engineered. 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.
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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