- Press Release
- Nov 29, 2022
NASA Scientist’s Career Spans Agency History
A Goddard Senior Fellow, Dr. Mario Acuna is a long way
from his native land. Acuna was born and raised in Argentina.
He had not planned on a career at NASA; however, a series of
events and political turmoil in Argentina eventually brought
him to America.
Acuna’s research began with the very beginning of the space
program, before satellites were put into orbit. Much of the
early space research was related to the ionosphere, cosmic
rays, and radiation belts. The available research tools were
rockets and balloons, which had to be launched from various
places around the world. Argentina was one of the places, and
that was where Acuna had his first contact with NASA. In
1966, Argentine universities were “intervened” by a military
dictatorship, and Acuna decided to leave the country.
Acuna received undergraduate degrees in the humanities and
economics and a master’s in electrical engineering while
attending the Argentine National University of Tucuman. From
1963 to 1966, Acuna worked as a foreign research assistant at
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Greenbelt, Md. in
sounding rocket and balloon programs.
He moved permanently to the U.S. in 1967. He continued
working at GSFC as a contractor for engineering and science
support. In 1969, he became a civil servant, and he worked in
sounding rockets until 1970. In 1971, Acuna moved to the
Laboratory for Extraterrestrial Physics as a staff scientist,
where he is today. His work at GSFC centered on aerospace
instrumentation, experimental investigations of solar system
magnetic fields and plasmas.
As Principal Investigator, Co-Investigator, Instrument
Scientist and Project Scientist, Acuna has played a crucial
part in many NASA missions, including Explorers 47 & 50,
Mariner 10, Pioneer 11, Voyagers 1 & 2, Viking, the mission
to Comet Halley and many other programs.
In 1986 Acuna was selected as Principal Investigator for the
Mars Observer Magnetic Field Investigation, later replaced by
the Mars Global Surveyor Mission. It arrived at Mars in
September 1997. It is in orbit around the red planet making
fundamental discoveries about planetary magnetism.
Acuna has published more than 140 papers dealing with
planetary exploration, magnetic fields and plasmas in the
solar system and instrumentation for space research. NASA and
other organizations have honored him with numerous
prestigious awards including the Schneebaum Memorial Award
for Engineering Excellence, the John C. Lindsay Award for
Space Science, the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific
Achievement, the Exceptional Service Medal and the Award of
He received the Distinguished Service Medal, NASA’s highest
honor, in recognition of his contributions to engineering,
physics and space research. In 2003 he received a
Presidential Rank Meritorious Award for his service to the
Acuna advises young people,” … to believe in themselves and
think less about money as a career goal. Above all,
education, in particular math and science, gives you the
freedom to choose what you do, rather than being told what to
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