Mario Runco, Jr.

Mario Runco, Jr. bigraphy, stories - American astronaut

Mario Runco, Jr. : biography

January 26, 1952 –

Mario Runco, Jr. (born January 26, 1952), is a former United States Navy officer and NASA astronaut. He is an Earth and planetary physicist.

Personal data

Mario was born in the Bronx, New York on January 26, 1952. Raised in the Highbridge section of the Bronx near Yankee Stadium, his family moved to Yonkers, New York in his early teen years. He is married to the former Susan Kay Friess of Sylvania, Ohio; they have two children, Maria and Carl. He enjoys ice hockey, baseball, softball, camping, model railroads, toy train collecting, and astronomy among other interests. He played intercollegiate ice hockey on the City College of New York and Rutgers University teams. Mario’s parents Mario and Filomena Ragusa Runco (originally from Lago, in the province of Cosenza, Italy) still reside in Yonkers, and Sue’s parents, Fredrick and Margaret Bidlack Friess, reside in Sylvania, Ohio.


After graduating from Rutgers University, Mario worked for a year as a research hydrologist conducting ground water surveys for the United States Geological Survey on Long Island, New York. In 1977, he joined the New Jersey State Police and, after completing training at the State Police Academy, he worked as a New Jersey State Trooper until he entered the United States Navy in June 1978. Upon completion of Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island, in September 1978, he was commissioned and assigned to the Naval Oceanographic and Atmospheric Research Laboratory in Monterey, California as a research meteorologist. From April 1981 to December 1983, he served as the Meteorological Officer aboard the Amphibious Assault Ship USS Nassau (LHA-4). It was during this tour of duty that he earned his designation as a Naval Surface Warfare Officer. From January 1984 to December 1985, he worked as a laboratory instructor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. From December 1985 to December 1986, he served as Commanding Officer of Oceanographic Unit 4 embarked aboard the Naval Survey Vessel USNS Chauvenet (T-AGS 29), conducting hydrographic and oceanographic surveys of the Java Sea and Indian Ocean. His last assignment within the Navy was as Fleet Environmental Services Officer, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Mario joined NASA in 1987 and remained on active duty as a NASA astronaut until 1994.


Graduated from Sacred Heart School in the Bronx in 1966 and Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx in 1970; he received a bachelor of science degree in Earth and Planetary Science from the City College of New York in 1974, a master of science degree in Atmospheric Physics from Rutgers University in 1976, and an honorary doctor of science degree from the City College of New York in 1999.

Space flight experience

On his first flight, Runco served on the crew of STS-44 aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis which launched on the night of November 24, 1991. The primary mission objective was accomplished with the successful deployment of a Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite. In addition, the crew conducted two Military Man-in-Space Earth Observation experiments, three radiation monitoring experiments, and numerous life sciences experiments in support of long duration space flights. The mission concluded after completing 110 orbits of the Earth. Atlantis returned to a landing on the lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on December 1, 1991. Mission duration was 6 days, 22 hours and 50 minutes.

Just over a year later Mario served as a mission specialist on the crew of STS-54 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. STS-54 (January 13–19, 1993) launched and landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The six-day mission featured the deployment of a NASA Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-F). Also carried in the payload bay was the Diffuse X-Ray Spectrometer (DXS). This astronomical instrument for studying stellar evolution scanned the local vicinity of our Milky Way galaxy and recorded the low-energy X-ray emanations believed to originate from the plasma remnants of an ancient supernova. Crewmate Greg Harbaugh and Runco also became the 47th and 48th Americans to walk in space during a 4.5-hour space walk designed to evaluate the limits of human performance during extravehicular activities (EVA) in anticipation of the construction of the International Space Station. In what was called the "Physics of Toys", which has since become a popular children’s educational video, the crew also demonstrated how everyday toys behave in space to an interactive audience of elementary school students across the United States. Mission duration was 5 days, 23 hours and 38 minutes.