As a kid, Mark Altman could spend hours staring into the constellation-crowded night sky. That’s because as an adult, that’s where he imagined he’d be working.
Now on the cusp of adulthood and high school graduation, Altman is set to begin the first leg in a journey he set for himself years ago to traverse space. With those NASA-inspired dreams, the 17-year-old graduate has crammed as many memorable family moments and higher education opportunities as possible into his Coeur d’Alene High School career, with more on the way as he’ll be attending Florida’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which happens to be within earshot of the thunderous rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.
“I have never met such a dynamic and personable student as Mark, whose passion for academic equally balances his passion for life,” said Mike Nelson, vice principal at Coeur d’Alene High School. “He truly embodies not only a well-rounded student, but one that uses his influence to benefit others through Scouting and his many extra curricular efforts.”
Though he’s only been in North Idaho since 2005, those extracurricular activities include a semesterlong trip to Capitol Hill and the U.S. Senate floor, where the Texas native served as one of 30 student pages, the first page selected in Coeur d’Alene High School history; a longtime Boy Scouts of America member and decorated Eagle Scout; fencing lessons at Coeur d’Escrime; and dual-enrollment duties through high school and North Idaho College classes. Altman also works for the Hayden Lake Parks and Recreation Department coaching youth sports.
That’s not to mention the several thousand miles covered in two cross-country bicycling trips: the first was an 11-week trek from Rome to Edinburgh, Scotland, with his dad when Altman was 10; the other was a three-month ride from Portland to New York City with all six members of the Altman family when he was 15.
“I’d have to say it was some of the best times in my life,” Altman said about the two-wheeled trips, the latter of which was a cross-country vacation the family took before their dad, Army Maj. Mark Sr., left for Iraq. “That trip was a lot about spending time with my dad,” he said. “No matter how bad it was on the bike trips, being out in the middle of America with just family was always great.”
But where did the aspiring astronaut and world traveler find such influence? It came mostly from the elder Mark, who retired from the military and is pursuing a doctorate in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University while writing a “family values” column for the Coeur d’Alene Press. “The single greatest influence is my dad. From a young age he really taught me, first of all, to value my education. Just about everything I do has been shaped by him,” he said. “A lot of people think of the normal high school experience as drinking, partying and that sort of think, but I’ve never really done that.”
From his father’s perspective, however, the younger Mark has been a source of inspiration. “He is not my any means an average kid, not by any means,” the elder Mark said, adding that his son frequently had his face buried in classic literature, can quote full pages of Shakespeare and has been a role model for his little brother. “I have not met a 17-year-old kid who is as broadly read or as broadly knowledgeable as Mark.”
That academic motivation was embedded early on, as his dad would tote then-infant Mark to his college classes in Texas. “He was involved with higher education since he was an infant,” his father said.
Later in life on the Europe bike trek, the young history buff “got to walk the ground and see it in a very real way. That opened his mind,” his father said. Also, as his father was a career officer, the younger Mark was surrounded by “men of the first rank,” his father said, fellow Army officers of “impeccable character and fine mind … I was able to have Mark around these men who hammered home the same message – to be a man of honor.”
Those experiences added to an already gifted student, his father said. With his mind set on a degree in either aerospace engineering or astrophysics and eventually flight school, the younger Altman, who attributes part of his outer-Earth drive to watching the movie “Apollo 13” as a kid, is looking forward to his move to the Daytona Beach-based university, a “school for people who don’t like to stay on the ground,” he said.
“I want to go into space. I think it’s amazing, just because we don’t know – it’s the only thing that doesn’t end. There’s just a draw to it, I don’t know. I can sit and stare for hours.”
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