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Beyonce angers NASA community by using Challenger audio on new album

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, at 7:39 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, at 7:43 a.m.

Maybe, in hindsight, this wasn’t such a good idea after all?

For the song “XO” on her new album, Beyonce used a six-second audio clip from the space shuttle Challenger explosion, ticking off NASA astronauts and the families of those who died in the 1986 tragedy.

The Challenger was 73 seconds into its flight when it exploded on live TV, killing all seven crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.

The clip that opens Beyonce’s song is the voice of former NASA public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt saying, “flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.”

"These words were uttered as the crew and their disintegrating vehicle were still falling into the sea," Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee and founder of Nasawatch.com, told the Houston Chronicle.

"The choice (of using the clip) is little different than taking 911 calls from the World Trade Center attack and using them for shock value in a pop tune.”

NASA images and audio material are reportedly in the public domain and because they are not copyrighted anyone can use them.

Even so, since the album’s release on Dec. 13, many people in the NASA community – including Challenger widow June Scobee Rodgers and retired astronaut Clayton Anderson – and NASA itself have expressed outrage to disappointment.

Some have even asked that Beyonce remove the clip from the song.

“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,” read a statement from Rodgers and the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

Rodgers’ husband, Dick Scobee, was commander of the Challenger and one of the seven who lost their lives that day.

In a statement given to ABC on Monday, Beyonce defended the audio clip, saying it was meant to memorialize the Challenger crew.

She was born in Houston, home to the Johnson Space Center, and has done work with NASA in the past.

“My heart goes out to the families of those lost in the Challenger disaster,” she said in the statement.

“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.

NASA blogger Cowing told the Houston newspaper that Beyonce’s statement sounded like “ass-covering on their part.”

"Beyonce was a little girl living in Houston in 1986 when her astronaut neighbors died on their way to work in outer space,” said Cowing. “She needs to apologize for using this audio clip and remove it from the song."

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