Entering the University of Michigan at the age of 15, Richard (“Dick”) Passman went on to have a legendary and innovative career at the forefront of the aerospace industry. He passed away on April 1 as a result of complications due to COVID-19.

Passman was born on June 30, 1925 in Cedarhurst, N.Y., to Matthew and Ethel Passman. His grandfather, Henry Passman escaped from pogroms in Lithuania in the 1890s and became a sign painter in New York.

As a boy, Passman excelled in school, skipped some grades and was accepted to the University of Michigan when he was just 15. In addition to his studies, he played baseball as a pitcher.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1944 and mathematics in 1946, and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1947.

During World War II, Passman trained as a U.S. Navy Pilot before he was discharged for medical reasons, going on to serve as an aeronautical engineer. He also played on a Navy baseball team, also as a pitcher, and his son told how his father would proudly talk of the future top-level players he competed against well into his old age.

Passman became the chief aerodynamicist at Bell Aircraft, where he worked on Bell X-1 and Bell X-2 rocket-engine-powered aircrafts that broke the sound barrier in 1947, and the speed and altitude records of the day.

In 1949, he met Minna, a triplet, while visiting New York City. They married soon after, and started their family in Buffalo before moving to suburban Philadelphia.

They were invited to the Apollo 11 launch to the moon in 1969, even able to greet the astronauts in Houston upon their return.

Over the course of a four-decade career, Passman worked at General Electric; the U.S. Department of Energy; and Grumman Corp. He famously worked on Corona, the spy satellite that informed the United States of the Soviet’s nuclear capabilities; the SNAP 27 power system that powered all of the Apollo missions to the moon; and re-entry systems for intercontinental-ballistic missiles.

After his retirement, Passman co-authored X-15: The World’s Fastest Rocket Plan and the Pilots Who Ushered in the Space Age. He was also named to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Wall of Honor and spent years during his retirement volunteering there.

Despite his academic brilliance and achievements, Passman remained warm and approachable. A deeply committed family man, he retained his childhood love of baseball and football, and enjoyed going to the symphony. He and Minna relocated to Florida for years before returning to Maryland to be closer to family.

Passman is survived by his wife of more than 70 years and their three sons, along with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by sister, Lenore Davis, in 2012.

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