Lunar and Planetary Institute
Lunar and Planetary Institute



Mario Acuña, 1940–2009

March 6, 2009

Mario Acuña

Dr. Mario H. Acuña, a research scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, passed away on March 5, 2009, after a lengthy and brave battle against multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood.

Born March 21, 1940, in Córdoba, Argentina, Acuña became a naturalized U.S. citizen in April 1994. He earned a B.A. degree from the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba in 1958, an MSEE degree from the Universidad Nacional de Tucumán in 1967, and a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America in 1974.

Acuña joined the staff of NASA Goddard in the early 1970s, first working as a research scientist in the Space Plasmas and Planetary Magnetospheres Branches, and then as a Senior Astrophysicist. He was a major pioneer in the field of planetary magnetism, and an original co-investigator on the MESSENGER mission from the time of the team’s first proposal 13 years ago.

Acuña was a principal investigator on experiments flown on numerous missions over the years, from the Pioneer 11 Fluxgate Magnetometer Experiment in 1973 to the Mars Global Surveyor Magnetic Field Experiment in 1994. He was also the recipient of many professional awards, including the Moe Schneebaum Memorial Award (the highest engineering award at Goddard), the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

Acuña passed away in the comfort of his home, surrounded by his family and loved ones. He leaves a devoted wife, Barbara; sons Jamie, Andrew, and Daniel; daughter Marta, and five grandchildren, with more on the way. He passed peacefully, content with all that life afforded him. His loss will be deeply felt by all who follow the progress of planetary science and space plasma physics.

A funeral mass will be held March 10 at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Bowie, Maryland. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Mario H. Acuña Memorial Fund at The Catholic University of America or the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

For more details, including a blog posted by his family that chronicles the struggle with his illness, visit:

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Last updated March 6, 2009