Judith Love Cohen: From Math-Loving Teen to Apollo 13 Savior

In a world where expectations often defined the path one should take, Judith Love Cohen defied convention and pursued her dreams. Born on August 16, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, Cohen’s journey from a teenage girl with a passion for math to an accomplished engineer is a remarkable tale worth telling. This article delves into the life of Judith Love Cohen, a trailblazing engineer whose contributions to the Apollo 13 mission were nothing short of heroic.

Early Ambitions and Education

Judith Love Cohen’s love affair with math and science began at a young age. Although her dream was to study astronomy, societal norms at the time discouraged women from such pursuits. Cohen’s resolve was unshaken, and she decided to become a math teacher instead. Her fascination with mathematics was fostered at home, where her father used ashtrays to explain geometry concepts. By the time she reached fifth grade, her math skills were so impressive that other students paid her to do their math homework. Undeterred by her guidance counselor’s suggestion that she attend finishing school, Cohen enrolled at Brooklyn College to study math.

However, her journey took an unexpected turn when she discovered engineering during her freshman year. Additionally, she met Bernard Siegel, whom she married soon after. The couple moved to southern California, where they started a family. Despite the demands of motherhood, Cohen continued to pursue her education and earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California (USC). This marked the beginning of her incredible engineering career.

Engineering Trailblazer

Cohen and the Atlas / Able satellite on which she worked in 1959.
Cohen and the Atlas / Able satellite on which she worked in 1959. Source: Wikipedia

In an era when female engineers were a rarity, Judith Love Cohen fearlessly embraced her role as a trailblazer. Her career saw her involved in groundbreaking projects, including the guidance computer for the Minuteman missile, the Abort Guidance System in the Lunar Excursion Module for the Apollo space program, and the ground system for the Tracking Data and Relay System Satellite, which orbited for an impressive 40 years.

Cohen’s dedication to her work was exemplary. She once went to her office on the day her son, Jack Black, was born. Remarkably, she even brought a computer printout of a problem she was working on to the hospital. Later that day, she called her boss to inform him that she had successfully solved the problem. Her most significant achievement was the development of the Abort Guidance System (AGS), which played a crucial role in the Apollo 13 mission.

The Heroic Role in Apollo 13

The Apollo 13 mission is known for its life-threatening crisis, but it was Cohen’s AGS that ultimately saved the day. In April 1970, when the Apollo 13 crew lost power, they relied on Cohen’s guidance system to navigate safely back to Earth. Her expertise and innovation became the unsung hero of that fateful mission.

A Legacy of Inspiration

Judith Love Cohen with her son.
Judith Love Cohen with her son. Source

Judith Love Cohen’s impact extended beyond her engineering triumphs. In her retirement, she co-authored books with her third husband, David Katz, aimed at inspiring young girls to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. She recognized the importance of encouragement in these fields, having lacked it herself outside her home. Her efforts continue to pave the way for future generations of female scientists and engineers.


Judith Love Cohen’s journey from a math-loving teenager to a pioneering engineer is an inspirational tale of determination and dedication. Her contributions to the Apollo 13 mission are a testament to her brilliance, and her commitment to encouraging young girls in STEM fields showcases her legacy of empowerment. She may be known as Jack Black’s mother, but Judith Love Cohen’s impact on the world of science and engineering is a story that deserves recognition in its own right.

4 thoughts on “Judith Love Cohen: From Math-Loving Teen to Apollo 13 Savior”

  1. Amazing woman extraordinary talent! Why have I not heard this story before? And Jack Black’s mom? WoW!!! Wonderful!💜💜💜

  2. Yet another ‘hidden figure’ – how many more are/were out there. More books, more movies about these amazing women…

  3. What’s most amazing about these women is their unassuming manor in which they mentored those of us who followed in their footsteps. I’ll be forever grateful for having known and worked with some of them. Truly inspirational.

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