Even as a teenager, Judith Love Cohen had a lot of love for math. However, her counselor suggested that she should learn to be a lady in finishing school instead.
Judith Love Cohen is Jack Black's mother. However, she is best remembered as one of the aeronautical engineers who helped to safely land Apollo 13 after a technical issue forced the astronauts to abandon their mission.
Clearly, she did not follow her counselor's advice. Instead, she decided to study engineering at USC, and she was instrumental in creating a program that helped save astronauts in the Apollo 13.
Judith Love Cohen was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She was born on August 16, 1933.
She dreamed of being an astronomer but had never heard of a female astronomer. However, after realizing she had a female math teacher, she decided to become a math teacher.
Fortunately, her father encouraged her to pursue her dream. He would teach her geometry using ashtrays. She was pretty good at it too, and by the fifth grade, she was getting paid by other students to do their math homework.
She eventually defied her counselor and attended Brooklyn College, where she studied math. It was while she was studying there that she developed an interest in engineering.
At 19, she was a dancer in the Corps de Ballet of the New York Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and an engineering student.
In her first year in college, she also met Bernard Siegel, and they got married a couple of months later. Soon after the marriage, the couple moved to southern California. They had three children together, but that did not keep Judith Love Cohen from pursuing her studies. She hated being idle.
Finally, in 1957, she graduated from USC with a bachelor's and master's degree in electrical engineering. Throughout her engineering studies, she did not meet another female student.
Nonetheless, her childhood dream finally came true after she started working for Space Technology Laboratories. The institution was a NASA contractor.
How Judith Love Cohen's Program Saved Apollo 13 Astronauts
Judith Love Cohen's work colleagues were primarily male. In fact, she was the only woman at her place of work; and only a measly 0.05% of all engineers at this time were women.
After she got divorced from her first husband in the 60s, she married Thomas Black, Jack Black's father. She was so devoted to her job that she still went to work on the day Jack Black was born before heading to the hospital.
She took the problem she was tackling to the hospital and solved it when her baby was born. She called her boss to say the problem had been solved later on.
Judith Love Cohen never shied away from new and exciting challenges. During her career at NASA, her roles involved various projects. However, her most notable achievement was her Abort Guidance System, which Apollo 13 astronauts used to find their way safely back to earth when the ill-fated spacecraft lost power.
The spaceship had a minor explosion on board as it was headed to the moon. An oxygen tank in the service module had failed. That meant the mission had to be aborted, and the astronauts had to come back home.
Fortunately, Judith Love Cohen had already worked on an Abort Guidance System that helped the astronauts land safely back on earth. The system was essentially an auxiliary computer navigation system that allowed the spaceship to abort in case the primary guidance system failed, which is what had happened.
The system guided the crew back home, and that included making two mid-course corrections.
One of her sons, Neil, confessed that Judith Love Cohen considered this to be the highlight of her career.
Judith Love Cohen retired after almost 40 years of working as an aerospace engineer. She was there when the Apollo 13 astronauts said thank you for the effort that had helped them get back on earth alive after the botched space expedition.
Judith Love Cohen Left Behind A Rich Legacy
Although being credited with saving astronauts should be a pretty good honor, Judith Love Cohen did not stop there. She also worked hard to ensure that girls could pursue science and math subjects and achieve similar feats.
She published a book about this after she retired, called You Can Be a Woman Engineer. Eventually, she published 20 books by the time she died. Judith Love Cohen noted that she did not get that kind of motivation when she was younger, and so, she wanted to make a difference.
Actually, she could not get a publisher for her book, and she joined forces with her then-husband, David Katz, to publish the book on their own using their own publishing house known as Cascade Pass. Nothing could get in the way of this woman's dreams.
Although she might not be famous like regular celebrities such as her son, she is very popular and well-respected in the world of science. In addition to designing the Abort Guidance System for Apollo 13, she also worked on the Hubble telescope, the Minuteman missile, and the Pioneer satellite.
Judith Love Cohen was a real go-getter, and she did not let anything get in her way. She is also credited with helping bring about various workplace changes, such as advertising job descriptions and positions.
In her final years, she hosted numerous book signings and held educational talks that encouraged girls' inclusion in science and math.
So, Judith Love Cohen was not just a female aerospace engineer at a time when most people did not think that was possible; she was also an enthusiastic advocate for equality and the scientist who helped save Apollo 13 astronauts from disaster.
Jack Black's half-brother followed in his mother's footsteps and became a professor of engineering.
In 2014, she got the IEEE-USA Distinguished Literary Contributions Award due to her work in educating children about STEM.
Judith Love Cohen died in 2016 at the age of 82 after a short battle with cancer. Her children fondly remember her as a loving mother and an accomplished aerospace engineer.