Beyonce has recently sparked great controversy from the most unlikely of demographics – members of NASA and the space community. Released on Dec. 13, as part of her new XO album, the track in question samples a six-second audio clip from the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster.
Beyonce’s XO Song Described as ‘Insensitive’
The song begins to play with the ominous voice of former NASA mission commentator and public affairs officer Steven Nesbitt. In the short audio segment, a somber Nesbitt is heard describing the tragedy that befell the astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger:
“Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation; obviously a major malfunction.”
What follows next on the track was a series of lyrics that – as described by many music enthusiasts and journalists – seemed, somewhat, at odds to its explanation. Beyonce recently addressed the rationale behind the audio clip’s controversial inclusion during an interview with ABC News on Monday, Dec. 30:
“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.”
Beyonce then proceeded to explain that the addition of the clip was a decision made by the songwriters as a “tribute” to the Challenger crew, with the ambition of ensuring they were never forgotten.
Many have criticized the singer for inclusion of the audio footage, contending that it is insensitive and fails to correlate with the lyrics of the track, which seem to primarily revolve around the description of a troubled relationship. The following is the chorus from the XO track:
“I love it like XO
You love me like XO
You kill me boy XO
You love me like XO
All that I see
Give me everything
Baby love me lights out
Baby love me lights out
You can turn my lights out”
The music video to the track sees Beyonce riding bumper cars and rollercoaster attractions at a fairground, dancing with a neon-lit hair bow and being snapped by awe-struck fans.
Meanwhile, NASA workers – both retired and currently employed – along with the Challenger Crew’s family members, maintain the pop song belittles the sacrifice made on the fateful day of the explosion. Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Challenger Space Shuttle Commander Dick Scobee, expressed her disappointment that the clip had been used, in such a way, during a recent press:
“We were disappointed to learn that an audio clip from the day we lost our heroic Challenger crew was used in the song ‘XO.”
Rodgers then went on to describe how the moment, included at the beginning of Beyonce’s latest XO song, was “an emotionally difficult one.”
These thoughts were echoed by NASA astronaut Clayton Anderson, who informed ABC News that he considered the decision to sample the audio clip was “… simply insensitive, at the very least.”
NASA officials also waded in on the issue. A spokesperson for the space agency, Bob Jacobs, stated that the loss of the Challenger shuttle “… should never be trivialized,” before going on to explain how they work every day to “honor the legacy” of those tragically killed in the disaster.
The Challenger Disaster
As the successor to the Columbia space shuttle orbiter, Challenger’s maiden voyage took place on April 4, 1983. It completed nine missions before
eventually tearing apart during its tenth mission, STS-51-L, on Jan. 28, 1986. The shuttle broke apart just 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, claiming the lives of all seven of its crew members.
Challenger was originally intended to be a test vehicle, with Rockwell commencing construction of the vehicle in 1975. The American aerospace corporation, Lockheed, then started structural testing of the shuttle in 1978. However, according to NASA officials, the computer models implemented at the time were much less sophisticated than those of today; resultantly, the models were unable to properly calculate the stresses imposed on the vehicle during the various phases of flight.
After NASA contracted Rockwell to convert the test vehicle into a fully-fledged spacecraft, a series of technical malfunctions delayed its first flight. NASA discovered cracks in the engine, causing a leak in the No. 1 main engine aft compartment, as well as an issue with the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS).
On the day of the accident, some NASA officials and contractors were concerned about the integrity of the seals of the solid rocket boosters, and remained unsure as to how the cold weather would influence the launch. Indeed, a presidential commission established cold weather was to blame for a degraded O-ring seal on the right solid-fuel rocket booster.
The high-profile disaster culminated in the shuttle fleet being grounded for two-and-a-half years, and prompted the space agency to enact a number of changes. With the commission finding cultural problems plaguing NASA, with individuals failing to articulate problems to the launch decision team, the agency worked to instill change in its workforce. In addition, technical alterations were made to the shuttle.
Every January, as part of a NASA Day of Remembrance, the space agency pauses to commemorate the crew of Challenger, along with all those who have lost their lives involved in space exploration pursuits. Astronauts Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Christa McAuliffe and Gregory B. Jarvis were all aboard the Challenger space shuttle when it exploded.
By James Fenner