NASA officials say the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster “should never be trivialised” after the singer Beyoncé was criticised for releasing a song that included an audio sample that was recorded when the spacecraft exploded in 1986 killing all seven crew members.
The space agency issued the statement after the pop star began to receive criticism from relatives of the Challenger victims and others for using the sample that includes the words “major malfunction” as an allusion to a failed relationship.
“The Challenger accident is an important part of our history; a tragic reminder that space exploration is risky and should never be trivialised,” said the statement from Lauren Worley, Nasa’s press secretary.
“Nasa works every day to honour the legacy of our fallen astronauts as we carry out our mission to reach for new heights and explore the universe.”
Nasa’s response came after Beyoncé explained the use of the snippet in a statement to ABC News on Tuesday that stopped short of an apology.
The sample appears at the beginning of the song XO from her new self-titled album. Among those critical of the sample was June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee. She told ABC in a statement that she was disappointed and described the use of the sample as “emotionally difficult.
“My heart goes out to the families of those lost in the Challenger disaster,” Beyoncé’s statement said.
“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.”
Beyoncé released her new “visual album” in early December that included 14 songs and 17 videos. Much of the initial discussion about the album had to do with its surprise release and platinum sales until the reaction to the Challenger sample circulated.
The audio sample was taken from words spoken by Steve Nesbitt, a public affairs officer for Nasa, on 28 January, 1986 as live footage showed the Challenger disintegrating over the Atlantic. “Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation,” he said. “Obviously, a major malfunction.”
Clayton Anderson, a former astronaut who liaised with the families of those who died in the disaster, said that using the clip was “simply insensitive at the very least”.