Beyoncé Challenger Shuttle Disaster Audio Clip Upsets Astronauts' Families

Pop artist Beyoncé is seen in her music video for the song "XO", which samples audio from the Challenger disaster.
Pop artist Beyoncé is seen in her music video for the song "XO", which samples audio from the Challenger disaster. (Image credit: Beyoncé)

Beyoncé is ending the year on a sour note with members of the NASA community.

The pop singer included an audio clip from the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster as part of her new song, "XO." The track was released Dec. 13 as part of Beyoncé's new self-titled album.

As the song "XO" begins playing, listeners hear the voice of NASA mission commentator Steven Nesbitt describing the tragedy that claimed seven astronauts' lives as it was still unfolding over the skies of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986. [Watch now: Music video for Beyoncé’s song "XO"]

"Flight controllers here looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction," Nesbitt said from Mission Control in Houston as the remains of the shuttle fell toward the ocean. 

What followed almost 30 years ago was one of the most solemn moments in NASA's history. In the song however, Nesbitt's words are met with Beyoncé singing about love and being kissed by her lover.

"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," the singer told ABC News on Monday (Dec. 30), offering an explanation behind the song and its use of the audio. "So love and appreciate every minute that you have with those who mean the most to you." 

That connection however, between the loss of a loved one and the lyrics, "Baby kiss me, before they turn the lights out, your heart is glowing, and I'm crashing into you," was seemingly lost, even among music enthusiasts.

"The sample remains unexplained but it's there," VH1, the music-focused television network, noted on its website soon after the song's release.

Worse though, it upset those close to the Challenger crew, including the families of the fallen astronauts.

"We were disappointed to learn that an audio clip from the day we lost our heroic Challenger crew was used in the song 'XO,'" June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of STS-51L commander Richard "Dick" Scobee and founding chair of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, wrote in a statement released Monday. "The moment included in this song is an emotionally difficult one for the Challenger families, colleagues and friends."

The space shuttle Challenger STS-51L crew. In back, from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In front, from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair. (Image credit: NASA)

Beyoncé told ABC News that her "heart goes out to the families of those lost in the Challenger disaster."

"The songwriters included the audio in tribute to the unselfish work of the Challenger crew with hope that they will never be forgotten," the singer added.

Rodgers said she and the other family members choose to focus on how their loved ones lived, rather than focus on how they were lost.

"We hope everyone remembers the crew for the inspirational legacy they left in the hearts of so many," Rodgers said, noting that it was the crew's dedication to education and exploration that resulted in the education of millions of students through the Challenger Centers.

NASA also responded to the song, stating that the loss of Challenger "should never be trivialized."

"NASA works every day to honor the legacy of our fallen astronauts as we carry out our mission to reach for new heights and explore the universe," NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said.

Challenger was lost 73 seconds into the space shuttle's tenth flight. In addition to Scobee, the STS-51L astronauts included pilot Mike Smith and mission specialists Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik and Ron McNair. Teacher Christa McAuliffe and engineer Greg Jarvis completed the crew as payload specialists.

Beyoncé Knowles, who grew up in Houston and was four years old at the time of Challenger's loss, is not the first artist to include NASA audio in a song. The bands Rush and Mannheim Steamroller, among others, have sampled shuttle sounds for their tracks, but Beyoncé is believed to be the first major recording artist to repurpose the audio from the Challenger tragedy.

Click through to to watch the music video for Beyoncé's song "XO".

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.