Jay Strimel is a graduate of Cameron County High School, class of 1969. He currently lives in Houston, Texas with his wife Janet and calls Emporium, PA, his hometown.
Jay was chosen as HMI’s feature story this month because of the new Space Force and the recent launch of two astronauts into space by the SpaceX company. Jay remembers his many years in the Air Force, working for NASA and being up close and personal on the day of the Challenger disaster in 1986.
We are so pleased that Jay has chosen to support Hometown Mentors, from the very beginning. He was one of ninety alumni from all over the United States, to come home to Emporium, [he came from Texas], to sing with his mentor, Sue Ann Beveridge, one last time in the 2013 Reunion Tribute Concert, sponsored by HMI. This is only part of Jay’s story as he has many chapters left to write.
The feature photo in this post is from MALONE, the magazine. This is the magazine put out by his undergraduate school. Jay was featured in that magazine, also in 2013, and he humbly says, “They couldn’t find anyone interesting to write about, so they pulled me in from the sidelines”. Jay’s bio article starts on page 16. We are unable to put it on our website, but you can read the article at this URL: https://issuu.com/malone-university/docs/malonemagazinefall2013/16
We hope you enjoy reading Jay’s bio and memoirs below, as much as we did.
Facebook Post, 2016, by Jay Strimel
January 28, 1986…. On this date, I was standing outside in the cold, so cold I was wearing a down ski parka, a knit wool hat pulled down over my ears and heavy mittens. Did I mention that I was in Florida?
I was standing outside of my office building at Kennedy Space Center to watch the Challenger launch even though I thought it would never takeoff due to the cold. Because it was so cold I had been waiting inside until later than I usually would in the countdown before going outside.
Inside I had been watching the video monitor that did sort of a slideshow of the 54 video cameras that provided different views of the launch pad including multiple views of various areas on the launch structure.
Since a freeze had been expected the launch pad and been put into freeze protection mode the night before which essentially meant that every water line on the launch pad was opened so that it would at least trickle in order to keep the water moving within the lines to keep them from freezing and bursting. Because of the freeze protection mode activation, the entire structure was covered in ice, making it look like something found in a National Geographic special about the Arctic.
That had me even more convinced that there wouldn’t be a launch.
But, I was the LPS Planner/Coordinator for the Challenger Vehicle and just had to watch because, well, just because.
So, I still brought heavy clothes to work with me to go outside to watch the launch and was going to go outside until saner heads canceled the launch.
Standing there next to the Press Site, shivering in the cold wind blowing off the Atlantic Ocean along with my colleagues and friends, all of us waiting for the launch to be scrubbed due to the cold. When the main engines started to fire we still didn’t think they would launch because we had seen them stop the countdown at that point before. However, when the solid rocket boosters where lit up, we knew there was no turning back and stood there in wonderment that they actually fired it off.
We were all watching intently and heard the announcement over the PA system “Throttling up to 110%” which always struck me strange when I would hear that as I wondered how any type of engine can produce 10% more than the maximum of 100%.
Shortly after that is when the Challenger turned into a starburst….
After a moments hesitation my mind started to race. Convinced that the Shuttle was okay and would be in the middle of performing a Return To Launch Site (RTLS) maneuver, I started to sprint back to my office.
I was trying to recall where my RTLS Manual was stored and thinking about how the LPS software load plans for that particular firing room were going to have to change immediately.
While running, I kept looking at the sky, looking for some sign of the Shuttle and recalled discussions that it was questionable whether or not the wings on the Shuttle could even withstand the aerodynamic forces required for a successful RTLS.
As I was sprinting back to the office, a voice over the PA system stated “No downlink telemetry detected.” That statement froze me in my tracks.
That is the moment when I knew things were extremely dire.
When I got back to my office building there were a bunch of us who gathered around the one TV Monitor and when we saw that first close-up of the explosion the gasp was audible, instantaneous and in unison.
That is when tears started to flow among members of the group….
Hope y’all don’t mind me writing about this memory. For me, this was one of those true “life changing moments” you hear about. It is also a memory that to me is as vivid as the moment it occurred.
Sometimes it is a painful memory even though it ultimately sent me on a pathway that I am happy to have taken.
A very, very dear friend of mine who was standing beside me that day sent me an e-mail yesterday. She said that for some reason this year  it was hitting her harder than usual and she was reaching out to me because she doesn’t know that many people any more who would understand what she was feeling….
It is a feeling that is hard to express, but I thought I would make this feeble attempt at passing this feeling and memory along.
Watching the Space X launch prep on C-SPAN. I find myself being flooded with memories of my 14+years working at KSC on the SpaceShuttle program.
At this point in the countdown I would have been filled with nervous energy, wondering around the LCC, going back-and-forth between the video control center, the communication control center and the ground-support test conductor’s office. All the while, experiencing a feeling of nervous yet hopeful and excited expectation.
I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until today, as I am watching today’s TV coverage of the space X pre-launch prep.
I was fortunate enough to have gotten in on the ground-floor early days of the Space Shuttle program. The first test I was involved with was the initial fit-check of the launch Pad-A structure with the shuttle Mockup and I continued to work there for over 50 Shuttle launches.
I would love to be able to work there again as part of this new program, as it would feel like I had come full circle.
Psalms 100 “ …Oh be joyful in the Lord…”
Although my stroke has temporarily impeded many of my physical abilities, I am grateful that my hearing remains intact. Because of that, I am still able to listen to and enjoy music the same as before the stroke occurred.
Music can still move me both emotionally and physically. Even to where the sheer beauty of the sound can bring me to the point of tears, sometimes leaving me sobbing like a 3-year-old with a skinned knee.
When the tears stop, the experience leaves me filled with joy for life and a deep appreciation for all that I have in my life and all that I have experienced in life. Such is the power of music to me.
So very grateful that I can still so fully enjoy music. Life is good. I am truly blest.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am still frustrated every day about everything that I still cannot yet do. But, I also recognize how far my recovery has come and I guess you could say that I am gratefully unsatisfied.
God is good, all the time.
I’ve had the privilege to have done this piece several times, including one time at Carnegie Hall. I’ve also had the opportunity to have met the composer, who is a very friendly, approachable person.
Hometown Mentors, Inc. is the “umbrella corporation” for Hometown15834 and other hometowns. HMI is a Nonprofit charity with an IRS designation of 501(c)3.
If you know of anyone who calls Emporium, PA their hometown, and has an interesting life story to share, please contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org