Two weeks ago, singer Beyoncé released a surprise self-titled album that went on to make record sales. Unfortunately, it has come to light that a music video for one of the album’s songs featured audio from the space shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.
Bizarrely, the song, called “XO”, uses the famous words spoken by NASA’s Steve Nesbitt as the shuttle disintegrates just after launch, killing everyone on board. As the video fades up, Nesbitt chillingly says: “Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.” It would perhaps be understandable if Beyoncé’s song was actually about the tragedy, but it’s not. “XO” features happy scenes from a carnival and is about a young woman dealing with the bittersweet feelings of lost love.
The video has generated widespread criticism, even prompting NASA to issue a press release. “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,” the statement reads.
On Jan. 28, 1986, only 73 seconds after liftoff, Challenger broke apart after an O-ring seal failed on one of the solid rocket boosters (SRB), allowing pressurized hot gas from inside the SRB to escape, causing structural failure of the vehicle. In the consequent disintegration and explosion, all of the crew perished.
Francis R. Scobee (Commander), Michael J. Smith (Pilot), Ronald McNair (Mission Specialist), Ellison Onizuka (Mission Specialist), Judith Resnik (Mission Specialist), Greg Jarvis (Payload Specialist) and Christa McAuliffe (Payload Specialist) died very soon after the explosion. Poignantly, McAuliffe would have been the first teacher to go into space, starting NASA’s Teacher in Space Project (that was canceled soon after). Media coverage of the launch was therefore extensive and very few Americans wouldn’t have heard Nesbitt’s haunting words across television networks.
NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson spoke with ABC News about the video, saying, “for the words to be used in the video is simply insensitive, at the very least.”
Keith Cowing, of NASAWatch.com and former NASA employee, didn’t mince his words in calling Beyoncé out:
Until this point, there may be some forgiveness for the award-winning artist — perhaps there is some underlying meaning for the audio use? Unfortunately, in a statement from the star, she doesn’t apologize and does little to calm tensions:
At best, Beyoncé’s statement reveals her naivety about what the Challenger accident means. At worst, it was used under a guise of sincerity and remembrance, to get free publicity through controversy.
Although I doubt that Beyoncé realized she’d cause unnecessary upset for relatives of those who perished, she has demonstrated a woeful disregard for a significant historic tragedy.
As Anderson points out, it could all just be down to perspective. “What we do in space just isn’t as important to young people today,” he said. And that could be the saddest thing of all.