The late James Michael Strong, a Santa Clara resident for many decades, is remembered by his family, friends and colleagues for a life well lived. His tragic death at 62, on Jan. 28, in a Santa Clara townhouse fire of undetermined cause and origin does not overshadow the accomplishments of his life.
Strong, the youngest of seven children, was born in Illinois in 1955. When he was four, his family moved to Palo Alto, where he grew up, attending Palo Alto High School.
He graduated from Notre Dame University in 1977 with a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in aeronautical engineering. Then in 1979, he joined NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, where he worked for 38 years.
“If we are lucky during the time we have here on Earth, we will have felt a greater sense of purpose…and that our life had meaning. Many of the projects we work on at NASA provide us that opportunity, but it’s up to us think big, pave the way and enjoy the ride. Jim did just that,” said Deputy Division Chief John Marmie, one of Strong’s supervisors at Ames.
“As a test director in the wind tunnels, he helped advance the development of cutting edge aeronautics, including the Space Shuttle. On LCROSS, or the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, Jim was part of a team that confirmed the presence of water on the moon, which sets the stage for potential lunar resource utilization.
“On IRIS, or the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph mission, Jim was the Mission Operations Manager or MOM. He truly embodied that role, taking care of his team and mentoring the next generation of explorers. Jim’s life served a greater purpose, and he will dearly be missed by his friends and family at Ames,” said Marmie.
A celebration of Strong’s life was held on March 7 at NASA Ames Research Center. Strong, who never married, was preceded in death by his parents, June Conrow Strong and John Matthews Strong and is survived by his six siblings and eight nieces and nephews.
Stong’s siblings wrote of him, “You were a happy guy who loved life. You absorbed Dad’s lifelong interest in aviation, photography and astronomy along with Mom’s nurturing, cheerful nature and her green thumb.
“You shared with us your love of gazing at full moons, distant suns and starry nights, first as a child with toy planetariums and backyard telescopes, then as an adult exploring national parks with your camera and with a job helping NASA study the sun and moon.”
The cause of the fire that took Strong’s life is still unknown. In the few minutes before firefighters could respond to the 1:50 a.m. report of fire at 1031 Clyde Ave., his townhouse was engulfed in fire. Other residents of the two-story, four-unit building in the Lafayette American townhouse complex escaped the fire. However, Strong was discovered in cardiac arrest in his first-floor unit. He was given CPR and sent to a hospital but did not survive.
“Any time there is a serious injury or loss of life on an incident, our hearts go out to all involved,” said Santa Clara Fire Department Battalion Chief Drew Miller. “We remain vigilant for any further information regarding the fire, but both the fire suppression activities [thousands of gallons of water] and the extent of damage from the fire itself make cause determination very difficult.”
“Moon gazer, patient peacemaker, photographer par excellence, engineering wiz, gentle soul—Jim, you made our lives better,” wrote his siblings in an obituary. “The moon turned blue three days after he left us.”
At his celebration of life remembrance, Strong’s family asked that friends “consider hugging a loved one, savoring the vast, dark night sky, or making a donation to a charity of your choice in Jim’s name.” Post comments at https://www.paloaltoonline.com/obituaries/memorials/james-michael-strong?o=5328