So I was watching Alien (1979) the other day to prepare for my weekly podcast, when a certain special scene came up. Every time this scene comes up, I always tune out a little bit. It's the one where Ripley must activate the Nostromo's self-destruct.
In the midst of Alien attacks and people dying left and right, I always pause for a moment here, fascinated by the hardware at the center of the scene: The Emergency Destruct System. The only thing more fascinating than the design of this device is how insanely complicated it is to activate! Really! It's a miracle anybody ever blows up a ship! Then again, perhaps that's the desired effect, these ships are rather expensive, you know.
As my good friend and fellow podcaster Dennis Rosenfeld points out, it's also rather disturbing that a spaceship would even need this function. If catastrophic disasters happen often enough to build such a device into every ships, I sure hope there's some decent hazard pay involved.
But I digress.
To help you in case you find yourself on an M-Class star-freighter and need to activate the self-destruct, and because I have no serious articles ready, let's look at how you operate this cool piece of hardware.
Emergency Destruct System Activation Procedure
1. First you have to punch the big red knob. A hatch will spring open. Pull the lever behind it.
2. Then you need to unscrew two screws that hold a cover in place. Remove the cover, and pull both levers you find there. They will give you resistance, put some muscle into it. This will make the primary activation panel pop up. For your convenience this has been located in the floor, in case you're bleeding so much you can't stand.
3. Read the instructions carefully before proceeding. I'm gonna say that again. Read. The. Instructions. Carefully.
At this point it's assumed that you've already warned your shipmates (the ones who aren't dead), who should be located in the ship's emergency escape shuttle. Also, any pets should be secured in a company approved carry-case and placed on the shuttle, but wait until the last moment to do this.
4. After reading the instructions, press a series of random buttons with odd symbols. (Avoid the one looking like an umbrella. It will activate the sprinkler system.) The four nuclear bolts will pop up.
5. Activate the nuclear heads. Take bolt 1, screw it into hole 1, and pull up nuclear head 1. Activate, by flipping the little switch, located behind the little hatch. Repeat this procedure with bolts 2 through 4.
Note that at this point a detached female voice will begin an annoying countdown. Also, flashing graphics will appear on every monitor in sight. Don't panic, this is normal.
The self-destruct is now activated. (Actually, the self-destruct will activate BEFORE you're finished with all four bolts. This is being worked on. Version 2.0 will not have this problem.)
6. That's it, you're all done. Now run.
THE FINE PRINT
The overload will take exactly 10 minutes. After 5 minutes you will no longer be able to stop the destruct mechanism. This is rather inconvenient since it will take you exactly 5 minutes and 3 seconds to run to the escape shuttle, realize you've made a mistake, run back and deactivate the self-destruct.
So once again, you REALLY have to be sure, before you turn it on.
Also, please note that screaming at the computer will not help anybody.
Is it just me, or does it seem rather silly to have to go through such an elaborate process to blow up a ship? I mean, if it comes to that, you must be in quite a hurry to get the hell out of there. I would also like to point out that the activation requires no codes or identification. Anybody can basically turn this thing on!
Also notice that even though this is obviously an English-speaking crew, the arming instructions are also presented in French!
In fact, Ripley appears to read off the French version when she attempts to deactivate the device. Could this be the reason she fails?
Anyway, the practical applications of this device notwithstanding, this is still the coolest piece of movie hardware ever, and now you know exactly how to operate it next time you need to blow up a spaceship.