Current and former members of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have slammed musical superstar Beyoncé for her “insensitive” use of an audio clip from the space shuttle Challenger disaster in her new song, “XO.”
The song is by all accounts a love song about a “troubled relationship” and has nothing to do “whatsoever” with the shuttle explosion that killed all seven crew members, including school teacher Christa McAuliffe, as a horrified nation watched on Jan. 28, 1986.
However, Beyoncé tried to spin it as a “tribute to the unselfish work of the crew” in a statement issued Friday to ABC News over the controversy:
My heart goes out to the families of those lost in the Challenger disaster. The song ‘XO’ was recorded with the sincerest intention to help heal those who have lost loved ones and to remind us that unexpected things happen, so love and appreciate every minute that you have with those who mean the most to you. The songwriters included the audio in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten.
The news that the sad words spoken at the beginning of “XO” were those from the Challenger explosion was brought to light by former NASA employee and editor of NASA Watch Keith Cowing, who noted on his website that the audio segment was of NASA’s Steve Nesbitt “as the [Challenger] crew and their disintegrating vehicle were still falling into the sea,” on that fateful day: “Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.”
Cowing criticized Beyoncé in his blog post, writing in part:
These words are forever etched into the psyche of everyone who was watching that day and still echo across the years for the generation that followed.
The song that follows these words about Challenger is certainly catchy – but it has nothing whatsoever to do with Challenger and the sacrifice that their crew made that morning in January 1986. Instead, the song has to do with the trivial life event of a girl breaking up with her boyfriend. The music video shows them playing at an amusement park. Having this audio included in such a song serves to mock the severity of the events and loss that these final words represent.
If this was done with full knowledge of the origin of these words then this is simply repugnant. If this was done without due diligence as to the source of the words being sampled, then this is ignorance. Either way Beyoncé owes the families of the crew of Challenger an apology.
I know the families of the Challenger crew very well. If you ask they will tell you with quiet dignity and purpose that they chose to focus not on how their loved ones died but rather upon how they lived – and how their legacy continues through the educational organization, Challenger Center, that they formed in their memory.
Cowing obtained statements from both NASA Public Affairs and Dr. June Scobee Rodgers – widow of Challenger astronaut Dick Scobee – expressing disappointment over Beyoncé’s poor decision to use the audio clip.
NASA Public Affairs wrote:
The Challenger accident is an important part of our history; a tragic reminder that space exploration is risky and should never be trivialized. NASA works everyday to honor the legacy of our fallen astronauts as we carry out our mission to reach for new heights and explore the universe.
Scobee Rogers wrote:
We were disappointed to learn that an audio clip from the day we lost our heroic Challenger crew was used in the song ‘XO’. The moment included in this song is an emotionally difficult one for the Challenger families, colleagues and friends. We have always chosen to focus not on how our loved ones were lost, but rather on how they lived and how their legacy lives on today. Their dedication to education and exploration resulted in the creation of Challenger Center for Space Science Education and because of this we have been able to educate millions of students across America and beyond. We hope everyone remembers the crew for the inspirational legacy they left in the hearts of so many.
“Beyoncé was a little girl living in Houston in 1986 when her astronaut neighbors (including a school teacher) died on their way to work in outer space,” Cowing said. “She needs to apologize for using this audio clip and remove it from the song. Its absence won’t affect the song at all.”
The tragic “Challenger Disaster Live on CNN”: