Cathy Mangum

New employees at NASA’s Langley Research Center often ask me whether I had a plan for my career. My answer? No. But the career I ended up with is one I’m privileged to have.

NASA captured my imagination from an early age. My father worked for the Department of the Interior and was responsible for providing the helium necessary for launches. I remember going to view the Apollo 12 launch and thinking, that’s amazing — how do they do that? Who knew at that point that someday I would work for NASA?

Throughout my school years I loved math and as I entered college I thought I wanted to be an accountant. My roommate convinced me that I should go into computer systems management. So I graduated with a degree in information systems and began my career at NASA Headquarters working as a contract programmer for the Science organization. This was back in the days of floppy disks and computer printouts. I knew right away I would love this job because where else would I be part of an organization that was launching spacecraft and flying missions to other planets? Even as a young contractor I soon recognized that NASA treated everyone as family and it was great to be a part of that family.

In 1988 I joined NASA as a civil servant and began working in the Aeronautics Directorate. I got married that same year and soon gave birth to my son. This was my first real experience with work-life balance. As a female programmer, commuting in a carpool to and from work in Washington, D.C., dealing with daycare and a new husband, it was a chaotic but amazing time.

I continued to work at Headquarters in various management positions, ultimately becoming Director of the Institutions Division in the Aeronautics Directorate. Having several years of experience as a supervisor, I realized my true passion was helping others achieve their goals and also influencing the way NASA supported its missions. With my background in information technology (IT), my family and I relocated to NASA Langley in 1996 and I became the Deputy Chief Information Officer (CIO) and eventually the CIO for Langley. This was a great time to be involved with IT since so many amazing breakthroughs were happening in the IT world.

Having worked in the IT world for almost 25 years, I was surprised when, in 2011, the Langley Center Director asked me to lead a team to develop a long-term strategy for the Center’s aging facilities and infrastructures. I was always willing to take on new challenges and this one seemed very important as the Agency is looking to ensure we have the right technical capabilities to achieve our mission today and far into the future. I pulled together an amazing team and through their dedication, persistence and hard work we developed the Vibrant Transformation to Advance Langley (ViTAL) plan, a 20-year revitalization strategy that calls for the demolition of aging structures and construction of six state-of-the-art facilities. This was one of the high points in my career. The plan was well received by senior leadership in the agency, members of congress and OMB, and is now used as a model for the Agency.

I imagined the actual implementation of ViTAL would be left to someone else, but to my surprise, the Center Director then asked me to not only lead the effort, but to become the Center Operations Director — another new challenge. In my current job in Center Operations I work with brilliant people whose passion to support the Agency’s mission is just as strong as if they were preparing to land a robot on Mars. We have just completed the second new building in our ViTAL plan and plan to break ground on the third one soon. Seeing our plan come to life at the center motivates us to accomplish the Agency’s mission and attract the next generation of engineers and scientists.

When I first came to NASA as a contractor more than 30 years ago, I had no idea I would end up where I am now. It just seemed that if I worked hard and always tried to do a little more than what was asked of me, new opportunities would come my way. So when people ask me if being Center Operations Director at NASA Langley was part of some grand plan I had for myself, I tell them no. But I also tell them I love what I do, and that I got here by being open to new possibilities and doggedly pursuing them. It’s a story I hope will be inspirational to a new generation of young women as they watch the next generation of NASA rockets race skyward and think to themselves, like I once did, “That’s amazing — how do they do that?” 

photo of Cathy Mangum


Ms. Cathy H. Mangum is the Associate Director at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia. Langley, founded in 1917, is the nation’s first civilian aeronautical research facility and NASA’s first field center. Langley is where NASA researches solutions to challenges ranging from global climate change and access to space, to air travel, and future aviation vehicles. As Associate Director Ms. Mangum serves as the chief operating officer managing day-to-day operations with a focus on Center commitments. In this capacity she is responsible for aligning Langley’s institutional resources and infrastructure to meet current and future NASA mission needs, optimizing both effectiveness and efficiency. Prior to her appointment as Associate Director she served as Director of the Center Operations Directorate (COD) at NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA. As Director for COD, Ms. Mangum was responsible for managing, applying, and overseeing the Center’s integrated infrastructure management, research support, and center operations services. Specific services provided by COD include facility engineering and maintenance, security, environmental management, logistics management, real property and space utilization management, master planning, and utilities and energy management. Ms. Mangum began her NASA career in 1983 as a contractor for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. In 1988, she was hired as an IT manager for the Aeronautics Mission Directorate. She progressed to Director of the Management Operations Division in the Office of Aeronautics in 1994. In 1996, she transitioned to NASA Langley where she helped to institute the newly established role of a federal CIO. In 2003, she was named the acting CIO and became the Langley CIO in 2004. She also served as Special Assistant to the Director of the Langley Research Center (LaRC) from March 2011 to June 2012 and provided the management and leadership of the development of the ViTAL vision and plan for the Center’s 20-year revitalization effort. Ms. Mangum earned a bachelor’s degree in Information Management from James Madison University in 1983. She has participated in several leadership development programs including the Senior Executive Service Career Development Program (SES CDP), the Harvard Senior Executives Fellows Program, and multiple agency organization development activities. The recipient of numerous awards, Ms. Mangum received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal in 2006. She lives in Poquoson, VA, with her husband Richard. They have two children and one grandson.