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Fact Check: Far Out: Jack Black's Mom Helped Create the Abort System That Rescued Apollo 13 Astronauts

Reddit
Reddit

Claim:

Jack Black's mom was Judith Love Cohen, a NASA engineer who helped create the abort-guidance system that rescued the Apollo 13 astronauts.

Rating:

Rating: True
Rating: True

In early 2024, a popular topic on Reddit went viral once again: Jack Black's mom. A March 24 post repeated a common set of claims made of the actor and singer's mother working as a NASA engineer who helped design the abort system that saved the lives of the Apollo 13 astronauts:

Judith Love Cohen was American aerospace engineer who helped create Abort-Guidance System that rescued Apollo 13 astronauts. When she went into labor, she took her work to the hospital, printed out the problem, called her boss, and said she finished it before giving birth to Jack Black.

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Nearly identical variations of this text go viral regularly. A Reddit post from April 2021, for example, made these same statement about Black's mom. These claims are true.

As described by her son, University of Southern California engineering professor Neil Siegel (Jack Black's half-brother) in an 2016 obituary he penned, Cohen's "first passions were dancing and engineering," and "by age 19, she was a dancer in the Corps de Ballet of the New York Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company, and a student in engineering school of Brooklyn." She later obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering at USC. Her career at NASA spanned multiple well-known projects, according to Siegel:

Her engineering career included roles on the teams that created the guidance computer for the Minuteman missile, the Abort-Guidance System in the Lunar Excursion Module for the Apollo space program, the ground system for the Tracking Data, and Relay System Satellite (recently retired after nearly 40 years of operations on orbit!) among others.

It was, Siegel said, her work on the Apollo project she was most proud of:

My mother usually considered her work on the Apollo program to be the highlight of her career. When disaster struck the Apollo 13 mission, it was the Abort-Guidance System that brought the astronauts home safely. Judy was there when the Apollo 13 astronauts paid a "thank you" to the TRW [now Northrop Grumman] facility in Redondo Beach[, California].

The story of Black's birth occurring while Cohen solved an engineering problem from a hospital bed comes from this obituary as well. "She actually went to her office on the day that Jack was born," Siegel wrote. "When it was time to go to the hospital, she took with her a computer printout of the problem she was working on. Later that day, she called her boss and told him that she had solved the problem. And … oh, yes, the baby was born, too."

Black, the aforementioned baby, would grow up to become a prolific actor and musician. In September 2019, he paid tribute to his mother on Instagram with a 1959 photo of her next to a Pioneer spacecraft:

Judith Love Cohen, NASA engineer and mother of Jack Black
Judith Love Cohen, NASA engineer and mother of Jack Black

Because Cohen was Black's mother and because she worked on the Apollo abort system as an engineer for NASA, the claim is "True."

Sources:

"Meet Aerospace Engineer Judith Love Cohen." Kottke.Org, 14 May 2019, https://kottke.org/19/05/meet-aerospace-engineer-judith-love-cohen.

USC - Viterbi School of Engineering - In Memory of Judith Love Cohen: Mother, Wife, Friend, Author, Engineer. https://viterbi.usc.edu/news/news/2016/obituary-judith-love-cohen-neil-siegel-usc-viterbi-engineering-women.htm. Accessed 25 Mar. 2024.