'The Rentals' release tribute song for astronauts killed in the Challenger shuttle disaster

Thirty-four years ago today, on Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger and its courageous crew were lost 73 seconds after liftoff. Astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Christina McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Mike Smith, Dick Scobee and Ron McNair comprised the crew who tragically perished in the disaster.

To honor the sacrifice of those brave astronauts, the American rock band The Rentals, fronted by Matt Sharp (best known for his work as a bassist in Weezer), released the song "Great Big Blue" and a corresponding lyric video inspired by the devastating events.

"Today is the 34th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. To help honor to spirit and legacy of the seven fallen heroes, we are releasing GREAT BIG BLUE (a song inspired by the tragedy.)" a tweet from the band reads. 

Video: Challenger Explosion Recalled in PBS 'Retro Report'
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The song features Sharp along with musicians Nick Zinner (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs), Ronnie Vannucci (Ronnie Vanucci), producer Dave Fridmann and The Gentle Assassins Choir. The lyric video showcases imagery of the sky alongside the lyrics themselves, which tell the story of the Challenger disaster from the perspective of the astronauts onboard. 

The lyrics include direct references to specific details of the day. "Outside the thermometer reads 31 degrees. Our families in the bleachers, bundled up so they don’t freeze. Filled with pride to watch their children fly. Eleven Thirty, Eastern Standard Time," the song says. You can read the full lyrics here.

The song's lyrics continue through the morning's events, up until the actual disaster itself. "Grey graffiti sprayed across the sky. Fall like streamers, eighteen miles high," Sharp sings. 

This is not The Rentals' first foray into space music. In 2019, the band released a song off of their upcoming record. The song, called "Forgotten Astronaut," a song inspired by the writing of Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins. The song is even written from the perspective of Collins as he traveled around the moon alone while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took humanity's first steps on the moon. 

"I started writing ‘Forgotten Astronaut’, while I was reading ‘Flying To The Moon’ (1976, MacMillan). When friends would ask if I had read anything good recently, I would tell them I was reading about Michael’s extraordinary life and whomever I was talking with would simply ask, Who is Michael Collins?" Sharp said about writing the song, according to the band's Bandcamp. He wanted to bring Collins' story back into the limelight. 

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined Space.com in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.