NASA People

Center Snapshot: Vicki Crisp
By: Jim Hodges

Vicki Crisp is the director of Aeronautics at NASA Langley who acknowledges a fear of heights, so she'll celebrate her 50th birthday by jumping out of a plane.

A young student gets some expert help from Vicki Crisp, Director of Langley's Aeronautics Directorate

A young student working on an airplane drawing gets some expert help from Vicki Crisp, Director of Langley's Aeronautics Directorate. Crisp was visiting the Bethel Elementary class of Teena McClaire, her sister.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

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By then, she'll have learned to ride the Harley-Davidson motorcycle that was a gift from her brother, Zane. After all, can it be that much harder than white-water rafting with daughter Sheila and son-in-law Cameron?

Any and all of those activities is probably easier than persuading her father, Zane Pinckney, that a management job in NASA could be a good thing for his daughter.

Crisp is a Langley legacy. Pinckney was a researcher in hypersonics and often brought his daughter to work. Behind her desk, she has a newspaper front page with a story of Pinckney's final Langley project, the SCRAMJET.

When she graduated from Christopher Newport University and took a job at Langley, her father was pleased by having another researcher in the family. And then she became a branch head.

"He said, 'You're going to have people in there with problems. You're going to have to deal with that. Why would you want to?' " Crisp remembers.

"I told him, 'You're doing research on one thing. I can affect a lot of things. I can help people realize their dreams.' "

Then she reminded him that, when he left Langley, he was a coach, working with children, helping them realize their dreams.

" 'Why is this so different?' " she asked.

Crisp has faced challenges since walking through the Langley gate as a contractor for her first year after college, then as a civil servant. Most of the challenges were self-inflicted: doing a job well while preparing for the next job. Working toward a leadership role.

"I've kind of achieved most of my goals," she says.

It's why she relishes mentoring others. "It's nice to help other people reach their goals," she said.

Her goals away from Langley have included raising daughters Sheila, now 27, and Linda, 24, and trying to balance time at Langley with their softball practices and play rehearsals, dance and music lessons.

No longer the softball and recital mom, Crisp turns her attention to personal activities.

"I have a list of places where I want to go," she said.

Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, motorcycle tours with sister Teena and brother-in-law John – the list involves places for a woman who enjoys the out-of-doors, who relishes the memory of the Grand Canyon at sunset.

Even golf, a newly acquired avocation with sister Sonya and brother-in-law Emery, will fit somewhere in there.

They are departures from more sedentary pursuits of Washington, where Crisp lived for four years while working at NASA headquarters.

"I would take walking trips around the city," she said.

But not just any trips. "I would take a card, you know like a deck of cards?" she said. "The card would describe a trip to take. You'd see a monument, and maybe someplace that you'd seen in a movie. I remember one was of a priest falling down stairs."

The "Exorcist Stairs," at 36th and M streets, are a big attraction in Washington.

She can reprise those tours with visits to daughter Linda, who works at the Washington Hospital.

Lest one get a sense that Crisp is a woman more at home in jeans and sneakers away from her office in Building 1244, she also has season tickets at the Chrysler Theater in Norfolk, is a foodie who enjoys new restaurants and debates with the family over the dinner table, and is seldom without a novel to fill spare moments.

"I stress to all I work with to make sure we make time for our family and friends," Crisp said. "It keeps us energized."

And, on the job or off, she has plenty of ways to expend her energy.