Has anything ever really been built with an auto-destruct system?

It’s one of the biggest movie clichés ever, but has anything ever really been built with one? Any type of craft or facility?

I know that large rockets (including manned ones) use them. But I mean one that the occupants have control over and would have to consciously decide to use, with a countdown timer etc.

And even speaking in terms of the future, would such a device ever really be needed?

I don’t know for sure, but I would not be at all surprised if certain pieces of military equipment had this feature.

I think Uncle Sam would much rather blow up something with everyone inside than let it fall into the “wrong hands”.

IIRC, U2 pilots way back when were instructed to kill themselves or destroy their planes or something if they were going to be compromised. I guess that was more to self-destruct the human, but still.

Maybe there’s some way you can get the reactor on those big warships to go critical and destroy everything.

wasn’t their an experimental missle that during test firing spun out of control in a spiral a few times and they activated the self desruct on it?

Naval vessels were in the past routinely scuttled by their own crews to avoid having them captured. That’s not quite the same, but it’s certainly in the spirit.

Any and all forms of code/cypher machines have full self-destruct capabilities.

For obvious reasons.

Missiles/rockets often have this feature as mentioned.

I’m not sure if military ships already have the scuttling charges in place or if the crew needs to break out explosives and manually place them around the ship. My guess is the latter as I doubt you’d want explosives sufficient to sink a ship all over the place in case something went wrong (not to mention adding their explosive power should the vessle be fired upon and get hit where a scuttling charge is residing.

I thought the Space Shuttle had this just in case it accidentally veered toward downtown Miami…

I could be wrong.

Yes, the shuttle has explosive charges to destroy it if the vehicle veers off course. The person in charge of making this decision and sending the destruct command is known as the Range Safety Officer.

After the Challenger blew up the SRBs flew off on their own until the RSO destroyed them. :frowning:

Except for the Enigma, evidently. :slight_smile:

Here’s a page from NASA on the subject of the “Range Safety System”.


The explosives are in the SRBs and the External Tank, not in the orbiter itself. However, I would imagine if the orbiter was still attached it would be quickly torn to pieces just like Challenger was.

I was refering to American cypher machines. Of course, the fact that they do in fact have self-destruct devices is due in part to our success in stealing other peoples code machines, including Enigma & related devices.

You know, this has become such a staple of bad science fiction that it’s already been lampooned in a science fction movie – the TV movie Something’s Out There with Olivia d’Abo has someone asking f the spacesip has a self-destruct system in it.

“No,” she replies, bewildered,'Why would anyone put anything like that in a ship?"

I suppose it started getting put in all those movies because it provided a neat way to dispose of the Creature (or alien soldiers – see Star Trek III) and all formidable problems, and at the same time it also provided a photogenic and exciting explosion, always at or nar the end of the movie. You can’t blame the moviemakers for taking this easy way ut.
Still, I have to point out that the first appearance of the Suto-Destruct Buton in a science fiction film – n fact, to my knowledge, its first appearance anywhere – it occurs not in this cliche way at all. The destruct doesn’t tae place t th end of th movie, no monsters or aliens are blown up with it, and the destruct serves a reasonable purpose.

It’s in the film Robinson Crusoe on Mars, a film which, in site of the silly-sounding title, is one of the best SF films made up until the mid-1960s. The astronaut marooned on Mars has been hoping to bring down his base ship (what would be the Command Module, were this movie made a few years later), but realizes that he can’t. Moreover, hostile aliens are nearby, and the errant module announces his position and presence, o he reluctantly uses his remote to trigger “destruct”. A clever bit of story.

I’ve heard that some file cabinet type “safes” for sensitive documents have a block of combustible material (I believe it’s called Thermite) on the top that can be ignited and will burn right down through the safe and all the contents. I haven’t ever seen one in person, I believe they’re mostly used in a facility that might come under control of hostile forces.


To better safeguard the secrets of their exemplary engineering from the prying eyes and grubby fingers of America’s body shop mechanics, the sliderules at Ford Motors introduced an ingenious self-destruct feature in the rear chassis of one of their more-storied 1970’s models, where the bumper connects to the auto body. The slightest rear-end tap was all that was required to ensure that the entire Ford Pinto would go up in a blazing fireball…


The Scrivener, looks like some police cars today had that feature also. :frowning:

(About three officer’s fatalities in Arizona alone)

Oh, I know… I was trying to remember the make and model, but couldn’t! I read that some police organizations are clamoring for all of those [very dangerous model] patrol cars to be replaced by SUV’s, which are very dangerous in their own right, both for their propensity to turn over on a dime, and to decapitate the hapless occupants of ordinary cars whose head-level cabins matches up with the SUV bumper.

Talk about going from the frying pan into the fire…

The most common product with a self-destruct mechanism is a fuse. Carry too much juice, burn yourself out.

Just a question. Who stole the Enigma machine?

I ask because I wasn’t aware that it was ever stolen, rather that it was cracked by the Poles in the 1930s and the British in WWII. Though I m happy to be corrected

That in itself is a self-destruct system, that’s all that part does. But in a way it is more of an “anti self-destruct” system.

The Americans never stole an Enigma. The Polish gave two to the British in 1939, who then used them at Bletchley Park to decipher encrypted German messages.