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NASA, Challenger Families, Slam Beyonce For Using Challenger Disaster Audio In New Single

Challenger Final Liftoff

NASA Officials, along with the surviving relatives of many of the seven astronauts who died when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch on January 28, 1986, are upset about a new single from Beyonce that samples audio from Mission Control in the moments after the disaster:

Beyoncé has been labeled “insensitive” by some current and former NASA astronauts and their families for sampling audio from the space shuttle Challenger disaster for a love song off her newly released album.

Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center Jan. 28, 1986. All seven crewmembers aboard were killed.

“Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction,” now-retired NASA public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt said as the nation watched wreckage fall toward the ocean on live television.

Twenty-seven years later, Nesbitt’s voice is heard at the beginning of the video for Beyoncé’s new song “XO,” about a troubled relationship. The singer has said that “XO” was written and produced by Ryan Tedder and Terius Nash, who goes by the stage name The Dream.

The audio clip is short, lasting six seconds.

Beyonce, in an exclusive statement to ABC News this morning, said, “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.”

But former and current NASA astronauts, employees and Challenger family members argue that using it in a pop song mocks the crew’s sacrifice and opens fresh wounds.

June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger Space Shuttle Commander Dick Scobee and a founder of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, told ABC News she is “disappointed” in the singer’s decision to include the clip.

“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.”

Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee who now runs the NASAWatch.com website, said, “This choice of historic and solemn audio is inappropriate in the extreme. 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.”

Cowing wants Beyoncé to remove the clip and apologize to families of the Challenger crew.

So, is this appropriate or not? What is it were the Cronkite audio that Cowing mentions, or the 911 calls or calls to family members from the people on the upper floors of the World Trade Center’s North and South Towers who knew they were going to die, or the 911 calls in the moments after the shooting in Newtown? Where does the line between good and bad taste lie here?

I’m not sure I know the answer, but even after nearly 28 years, those moments after the Challenger exploded remain raw for those of us who watched the event live on television. Using them to enhance a song seems wrong somehow.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. KM says:

    I read on another thread a rather insightful thought – that for most of her audience, this might as well be a clip from the Hindenburg for all of its cultural impact and relevance to survivors. How many Beyoncé fans were alive in 1986, let alone aware enough of the world around them to realize what just happened then?

    I remember being very, very little and my grandfather screaming. I had no idea what happened, only that I was afraid he might drop my baby sister in his agitation. What kind of emotional attachment and respect can you expect from someone even younger?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  2. Franklin says:

    Too soon?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  3. Anonne says:

    Never appropriate.

    Granted, this is really more of Ryan Tedder and The Dream’s problem, but she approved it, so…

    I was in elementary school when this happened and I wouldn’t remember the audio because we didn’t have TVs in class, we just found out afterward.

    Beyonce has a lot of fans of all ages, but only a small percentage of them would be old enough to actually remember and identify the audio.

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  4. al-Ameda says:

    It’s popular music, it’s Beyoncé – aren’t expectations low to begin with?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  5. rudderpedals says:

    I’m outraged at the stuff kids listen to these days. It’s just beyond belief.

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  6. Tano says:

    Everybody wants to play the outrage game. Everybody wants to play the victim, to advertise their self-righteousness by denouncing others.
    How boring.

    How many millions of references are used in popular culture that refer to truly tragic events, like wars where hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people have met horrific and unfair deaths?
    Heck, there used to be a punk band, the “Dead Kennedys”. How offensive could that be construed? Yet there wasn’t all this whining and pearl-clutching and attempts at censorship.

    Artists work with the memes that are in circulation in our culture. That is their job.

    Where are the lines? Wherever you want to draw them, for yourself. You are not obliged to like any particular song, or any particular line. But that doesn’t give you the right to demand the line be erased, that the artist need apologize and conform to your standards.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  7. wr says:

    @Tano: “Heck, there used to be a punk band, the “Dead Kennedys”. How offensive could that be construed? Yet there wasn’t all this whining and pearl-clutching and attempts at censorship.”

    If you name your band The Dead Kennedys and don’t manage to offend people, you’ve pretty much failed.

    Of course there was pearl clutching back then. It’s just that we didn’t have this ludicrous internet culture in which every human being alive is expected to weigh in publicly with an opinion…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  8. KM says:

    @Tano:

    Heck, there used to be a punk band, the “Dead Kennedys”.

    Did they regularly air the Zapruder tapes or audio clips in all their songs? Maybe airline jokes and splashing noises? If not, then that’s just false advertising!

    Entertainers regularly lack class, its true. We pay them well enough for it. Still, this is something a little different. Its not a reference, its actual content.

    I’m sure Christa McAuliffe joined NASA with the intent that a pop singer would include her final moments on a song about a petty fight with some dude and their “troubled relationship”. I look forward to the day we have to worry about there being a disclaimer on 911 that Columbia might want to sample it for the remix and needs our consent.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. Mike says:

    Money and fame don’t buy class. Beyonce demonstrated what a lowlife she is

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  10. Tano says:

    KM,

    Actually it is not the actual content of the astronaut’s final moments. It is the soundtrack of someone describing that event.

    And so you don’t like it. I don’t have a problem with you having your own taste, or even informing the world of what your taste is. My objection was to those who call for the song to be altered, the singer to apologize, the expression to be censored.

    There will be images or other material from 9/11 used in artistic expression just like we have all seen the (actual content) mushroom cloud accompanying the fiery death of 100,000+ people in Hiroshima used in many contexts. Artists have always used the artifacts of dramatic events in the real world to help express whatever it is they are trying to say. That is the way the world has always worked, and there is nothing wrong with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  11. KM says:

    @Tano:

    My objection was to those who call for the song to be altered, the singer to apologize, the expression to be censored.

    What’s interesting is that people who screams censorship are usually the first to complain when it interferes in their own lives and privacy. I’m sure Ms Knowles will be more than happy to have cameras and audio (commentary or otherwise) of her demise and that of her loved ones available for artists to “create” with – oh, and no royalties for it either! Paparazzi are a fact of her lifestyle; does she welcome them with open arms or get pissy that someone is using “dramatic events in the real world to help express whatever it is they are trying to say” to the cover of a tabloid when she wants something to be kept private.

    That is the way the world has always worked, and there is nothing wrong with it.

    No one said the real world was classy – witness the prurient crapfest that is the demand for Newtown data. I don’t have a dog in this hunt but these people do:

    But former and current NASA astronauts, employees and Challenger family members argue that using it in a pop song mocks the crew’s sacrifice and opens fresh wounds.

    and their wishes should be respected. If someone was taking pictures of your loved one’s funeral and photoshopping them for profit, you’d be pissed. If people released images of the tragic accident that killed someone important to you on Tumblr with a pithy quote, you’d be livid.

    Why shouldn’t the Challenger families get the same respect – because it happened to be on camera the first time?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  12. stonetools says:

    It’s the free market-therefore it must be appropriate and right!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. Tano says:

    KM,

    I have no idea what Beyonce thinks of paparazzi, nor what she would think of the artistic use of an account of her death. And neither do you.

    I tend to doubt that she would call for censorship, even if she did not approve of the use, but that is just a guess on my part.

    I disagree with you final point. I would wish to show respect to the families of those who died, but not to the extent of acceding to their demands for censorship.

    You seem to obscure the distinction between being pissed and having the right to demand that something be suppressed. It is not my place, obviously, to tell the families that they have no right to be pissed. But we all get pissed sometimes by the actions of others. That does not give us the right to control their behavior.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  14. Gustopher says:

    The astronauts are not heroes, they are simply dead.

    It’s possible to die, even on TV, even in a space shuttle, and just be dead, rather than heroic. It devalues the contributions of those who actually are heroes — firefighters running into burning buildings to save kittens, etc. — to claim that everyone who died tragically was a hero.

    Not to suggest that Beyonce’s appropriation of audio from the event was any less tasteless than it would be if the astronauts died heroic deaths saving the Earth from an alien invasion or something.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  15. Matt says:

    @KM: I was 6 and I remember the whole thing quite vividly. My grandpa was on friendly terms with Christa so they took it a bit harder then the rest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. James Pearce says:

    I’ve heard this sample before. It appeared on GWAR’s 1992 song “America Must Be Destroyed.” If Beyonce is too much for you, whatever you do, don’t listen to that GWAR record.

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  17. Grewgills says:

    @James Pearce:
    Maybe if Beyonce wore a giant foam head…

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  18. James Pearce says:

    @Grewgills:

    Maybe if Beyonce wore a giant foam head…

    As long as it’s just the head…..

    If she started wearing Oderus’s “Cuttlefish of Cthulu” I would be very concerned….and grossed out.

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  19. Nikki says:

    It doesn’t seem wrong, Doug, it IS wrong. Beyonce would have never allowed the use of the audio from the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. It’s about respect.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  20. grumpy realist says:

    Tacky and tasteless as all hell. The same way we don’t use archival recordings from Holocaust victims for entertainment. And Beyonce, no matter what she is trying to present herself as, is 100% entertainment. Equivalent of shooting an MVD pop video in Treblinka.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0