Beyoncé has responded to complaints from a NASA employee and a widow of astronaut who died in the 1986 space shuttle Challenger explosion about her use of a sample from that fated mission in the song “XO,” a track on her “visual album,” Beyoncé.
“My heart goes out to the families of those lost in the Challenger disaster,” she said in a statement, according to ABC News. “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.”
Beyoncé explained that she and her co-songwriters, Ryan Tedder and The-Dream, included the sample “in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten.”
The STS-51L Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff when a booster failed on January 28th, 1986. All seven crew members died in the burst. The Space Shuttle Program went on hiatus for two and a half years after the disaster.
Beyoncé’s “XO” begins with a sample of former NASA public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt saying, “Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation.” A beep sounds, and Nesbitt continues, “Obviously a major malfunction.” Then the song begins.
ABC News reports that June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger Commander Dick Scobee and a founder of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, was disheartened when she learned of the sample. “We were disappointed to learn that an audio clip from the day we lost our heroic Challenger crew was used in the song ‘XO,'” she said. “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.”
“For the words to be used in the video,” which depicts the singer frolicking around Coney Island, “is simply insensitive, at the very least,” retired NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson said. The former astronaut, who assisted the families of crewmembers who died when shuttle Columbia disintegrated while reentering Earth’s atmosphere in 2003, also said, “What we do in space just isn’t as important to young people today.”
Similarly, former NASA employee Keith Cowing expressed dismay. “This choice of historic and solemn audio is inappropriate in the extreme,” he said. “The choice is little different than taking Walter Cronkite’s words to viewers announcing the death of President Kennedy or 911 calls from the World Trade Center attack and using them for shock value in a pop tune.”
ABC News reports that several current astronauts who are not allowed to go on record publicly also expressed “dismay at what they say is Beyoncé’s use of a tragedy to sell a pop song.”
The news site also reports that, previously, Beyoncé has worked with NASA. In 2011, the singer recorded a wake-up message for the crew of STS-135, known as Atlantis, the final space-shuttle flight. She told that crew, “You inspire all of us to dare to live our dreams, to know that we’re smart enough and strong enough to achieve them.”
Since its surprise release, the album Beyoncé has spent two weeks at Number One. To date, the album has sold just shy of a million copies, all without the support of Target or Amazon. “It was brilliant. You spend no marketing dollars, essentially,” producer Noah “40” Shebib, who worked on the Beyoncé song “Mine,” told Rolling Stone about how the record sold so quickly. “To hold that together and not let that out of the bag is very, very impressive. It’s not easy to do. Everybody was surprised. Everybody. It wasn’t just the fans.”