Menlo Park resident Dr. David Altman passes away at age 103

by Contributed Content on July 18, 2023

Dr. David Altman passed away on July 10, 2023 at the age of 103. He died peacefully of natural causes in his home of 61 years in Menlo Park.

Dave will be remembered as both an extraordinarily smart yet inordinately humble man who was kind and gentle with a sly humor and love for music. His easygoing and curious nature contributed to his longevity as he embraced life with warmth, wit and wonder. His philosophical approach led to lasting personal relationships and lofty contributions to science that would permanently alter the direction of aerospace and rocketry.

Dave was born to Hyman and Frieda Altman on February 13, 1920 in Paterson, New Jersey. By age 23, he had earned two chemistry degrees: a B.S. from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley. It was at Berkeley where he met his beloved wife Beverly (Adlis) Altman, who passed away in 2015 after 68 years of marriage. Dave is also preceded in death by his two older sisters, Rose Patick and Beatrice Rubin. He is survived by his three children – Jody, Jan and Rick Altman – daughter-in-law Becky Altman, grandchildren Erica and Jamie Altman, and seven nieces and nephews.

Professionally, Dave is best known for his pioneering work in the development of solid fuel to propel rockets into orbit. This became instrumental to the U.S. Air Force and NASA, and contributed to the Apollo space program across multiple decades, including the moon landing. This work earned him NASA’s Apollo Achievement Award in 1969. In addition to his advancements with rocket propulsion, Dave worked with Robert Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project and helped investigate the cause of the Challenger Shuttle explosion. In 2020, Dave was inducted into the Schriever Wall of Honor, which recognizes early innovators who made tremendous contributions to the U.S. space program.

Sports were a significant part of Dave’s life as he played both tennis and golf into his 90s — he turned down a promotion that would have taken him to the East Coast so he could continue playing tennis year-round. Dave also had a strong Jewish identity and was an active member of Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City  for 60 years.

Dave’s final years — especially after Beverly passed — were bolstered by his devoted care staff led by Nancy Huie, who with the help of her family has supported the Altmans since 2011. Dave was spirited, joyful and healthy until the end, filling his days with books, music, sun-basking, regular visits with friends and family, and daily cocktails during happy hour.

Dave was buried at Hills of Eternity Memorial Park in Colma, California, next to Beverly. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Population Connection, a cause about which Dave was passionate, or Congregation Beth Jacob.

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