Posted by: Andy | March 12, 2009

Remembrance, from your son Andrew

On behalf of the entire Acuña family, we would like to thank each and every person who has supported us through this trying time. Through your encouragement and prayers we are buoyed to remain strong in the face of an overwhelming challenge. We are truly humbled by your continual display of love, compassion and kindness.

If you look up at the sky at night as my father Mario often did, sometimes you’ll notice stars that aren’t like the others. In a universe full of trillions of stars, some just shine brighter than the rest. They seem to glow – to shimmer – to pull in light from all around them. The largest and brightest of these stars actually die before all of the others – they just burn too fast for the universe to hold them.  In the end they sacrifice all the parts that made them whole so that other stars can be born from their passing.   

My father’s star certainly burned fast and shone bright – a steadfast and tireless worker in every regard, never failing to give his entire measure of devotion to every pursuit. He exemplified what it means to be a husband, father, abuelo, colleague, mentor, friend and hero.  He personified class, integrity, ethicism – with a rare and quiet pride for the myriad contributions he made to humanity itself. His love for science and discovery was surpassed only by the love for his family – and surpassed by a mile. My father used to travel a lot for work, sometimes being gone for weeks at a time. As kids we used to joke that he must have another family somewhere. Throughout his illness we found out he indeed did – and that family is all of you.  Forever willing to help those in need, my father’s selflessness endeared him to countless people – always the repairman, the teacher, the sage, the strong-shouldered hulk to stand on.

How does one give appropriate thanks to the person that gave you life – in every sense of the word? How do you repay such generosity and unconditional love and support? If you had asked me 6 years ago I might not have known the answer – but unknown to me at the time it lie inside of me, hidden and waiting, instilled in me by the man who taught me most everything I know. When my son Nathan was born the question was all at once answered – as natural to me as breathing. My father never wanted to be thanked or repaid. What he wanted from me – and from everyone – was to quietly lead by example as he did – to sacrifice as those that came before him did so that others may get their rightful chance to be great.

What my father never spoke of but in retrospect clearly communicated was a roadmap for raising my children and for appreciating and respecting the honor of having a family to love. The life lessons he imparted should serve as an example to us all. My father’s most important legacy is the education he provided for his children and grandchildren. In the book of Proverbs there is a passage that reads, “a good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children”. A couple of years ago, in his own quiet and unassuming way as always, my father mentioned to me he had set up a college fund for the grandkids so that they too could experience the value that an education brings – how it pays itself forward forever. What our dad ultimately did for all of us is his greatest gift. It was not providing us the answer to every question – it was giving us the ability to answer those questions ourselves. He taught us that the most important gift you can give someone is to teach them how to learn.

What better homage to pay to my father than to challenge oneself to carry his message forward, to show others that morality, benevolence and respect for your fellow man are not obtuse concepts? He asked a lot of himself and in turn hopes we might ask ourselves the same – not for recognitions sake – but for the simple reason that lending yourself to others in need is always the right thing to do. He will live on through each and every one of us. Do not take that responsibility lightly.

I remember as a child in the summer of 1977 my dad took the family down to Cocoa Beach, Florida for the launch of the Voyager 1 spacecraft for which he helped build the magnetometers. We all watched out over the ocean as the rocket lifted off and began its journey into space. In a sense, we were watching a metaphor for my father’s life and passing – a brilliant and powerful symbol of hard work, dedication, pioneering and imagination ascending into the heavens, quickly leaving our sight but still ever present in our minds and hearts – continuing on its journey silent and unseen, its voyage of discovery shared with all, its influence on the space that it held, the space that it passes, powerfully felt – continuing on, forever.

I ask that you not mourn my father’s passing, but instead celebrate the life that he led. As stoic and serious as he sometimes appeared, within him there lived an inner child that never stopped laughing, playing, looking up at the stars and wondering. He loved to have fun and to experience life. Right now I’m sure he’s showing God his world famous detachable thumb trick or maybe taking in a game of cards, dancing a tango or holding those around him spellbound with enthralling tales of planetary magnetism and space plasmas.

As a scientist, my father’s main job has always been to question, to deal with the empirical – but what should give us all comfort is that which was never in question – his faith in God. He quietly served the Lord and showed us His ways and for that we became closer as a family even in death. We are truly grateful that we could share in his final days together. What an incredible gift given to us by God that our father passed on in comfort and surrounded by those he loved.

He faced his illness and death as he lived his life – a man of strength, integrity, unfailing determination, a fighter to the end; with such an appreciation for the life he was afforded. He told us not to be sad for him and to go on living our lives as he had prepared us to do. “I’ve had my time”, he said. “I’ve done everything I wanted to do. Now it’s your time”.  In his final days when he had lost his capacity for speech and was unresponsive my sister and I were holding vigil over him when he suddenly opened his eyes and raised both hands for us to hold. Struggling to talk he managed the word “frame”.  “You want a frame dad?” I asked. “You mean a picture?” He shook his head yes. “A picture of what?” I inquired.  Pausing to gather the strength he would need to utter the last word he would ever speak on this Earth he turned to me and said, “Family”. A more appropriate last word has never been spoken.

May God bless and keep you dad. We love you.



  1. My duties as a Fields and Particles Experiment Representative at JPL and Mario was my main contact for the Magnetometer instrument on the Voyager Mission. He made my job easier because he was always available for consultation. One day I couldn’t get through to him for his decision pertaining to a very critical situation. Finally I called his associate who was just next door and he said that there was a line of people standing in the hall waiting to talk to Mario. That’s just how popular he was and needed on every mission. He give of his time and knowledge freely. It was indeed a pleasure and honor for me to know him.

  2. Although we´ve never met each other, my family always knew about your father and his job at NASA. My father was a cousin of yours, he was also born in Cordoba. Both my brother and me, keep in contact with Jorge Acuña, who was the one that told us about your loss. This message is just to tell you that reading your remembrance about your father was really touching and shows the proud you all feel about him. God bless your family and no doubt your father is by God´s side.

  3. Where can I begin? I have known Mario for 30 years. In the 80’s he emerged as the worlds authority on magnetometers so we hired him as our consultant to the oilfield and last year I found him again. Although he had his health to consider he always found time to engage in the subject he loved so much and to expand it from deep space to the bottom of an oilwell. He was the greatest teacher with a kind and gentle manner and the worlds greatest gentlemen and friend. He showed my son the famous thumbtrick when he was a youngster. We will miss this man of science, family man, gentleman very much. The world is better for his contributions in science and humanity. We also pray for his family who is so blessed to have lived with this giant of a man.

  4. Andrew and Family,
    I was saddened to hear and read about the passing of Dr. Acuna. I feel fortunate to have known him and the Acuna family during my formative years while growing up only one block away. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Wishing you nothing but good memories in the times ahead.

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