Here’s Why NASA is REALLY Annoyed with Beyonce

“XO” is one of the tracks from Beyonce’s surprise pre-Christmas album.  What has a lot of people upset is the sample that goes “Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.” Those who remember the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster will recognize those words as coming from NASA public affair officer Steve Nesbitt, who was narrating the launch for television.  This statement came seconds after the explosion following the “go with throttle up” command.

While samples taken from other news events have been used in song before–I’m thinking of anything Walter Cronkite might have said following the JFK assassinaton—Queen Bey’s use of this six-second snippet has made a lot of people really, really angry.

June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee had this to say (Via ABC News):

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.

Former NASA employee Keith Cowling also chimed in.

“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.”

For her part, Beyonce says she’s sorry.  Here’s her statement:

“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.”

All this raises an important issue:  At what point is it permissible to use an audio/video excerpt of a historic tragic event in the creation of a new piece of art?  Debate that.

Read more here.  Meanwhile, here’s the song:


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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One thought on “Here’s Why NASA is REALLY Annoyed with Beyonce

  • When I first heard about this, I remembered both “The Motorcade Sped On” and “19”. I don’t remember either of them being controversial like this — actually I remember them getting praise for being poignant.

    The difference is both of those songs used almost exclusively speech samples, with some backup singers just repeating what the speech samples had already said on “19”. Beyonce starts with the sample and then moves on to her own lyrics, which have a lot of unfortunate imagery about crashing. It doesn’t help that the video starts with a bumper car ride, although we should be judging the wisdom of that separately from the song choices.

    The other major difference is that “Motorcade” and “19” are both directly about what the samples are taken from, whereas “XO” had only a slender connection with its sample’s subject matter.


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