The NASA Job You Never Knew Jack Black's Mom Had

Actor, musician, and comedian Jack Black has been a big celebrity for a couple of decades now, starting out with low-profile roles in commercials and whatnot, before becoming a bankable Hollywood leading man. Black has also cultivated a career in music along with his acting profession, performing alongside his pal Kyle Gass in the comedy/rock band Tenacious D.

As it turns out, however, Jack is from something of a famous family, although his parents' and his siblings' fame is limited to certain circles. Black was born to parents who were both engineers working for NASA, as he once explained on comedian Kevin Nealon's YouTube series.

Jack's mother, Judith Love Cohen, not only worked in NASA, she was involved in some high-profile projects, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the Apollo program. Indeed, Cohen was partially responsible for the abort system that carried three astronauts home to safety after a failure doomed the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

This is the true story of the NASA job that Jack Black's fans didn't know his mother had.

Judith Love Cohen was a math and science prodigy from an early age

Judith Love Cohen was born in 1933 in New York, according to The L.A. Times. In those days, the idea of a woman entering the workforce in anything but a menial or traditionally female job, such as a nurse, was all but unthinkable. And for a woman to go into a scientific field was essentially unheard of.

Cohen, however, who by fifth grade was getting paid to do her peers' homework, wasn't going to be bound by pre-assigned gender roles. By 1962, she'd earned two engineering degrees and had spent a decade working in aviation. She would eventually wind up at NASA, working on both the Hubble and the Apollo programs.

Judith's son, and Jack Black's half-brother, Neil Siegel, wrote that of all her career accomplishments, she considered the years in the Apollo program her finest work.

"My mother usually considered her work on the Apollo program to be the highlight of her career," he wrote in her obituary, via the University of Southern California.

Cohen helped design a system that saved the Apollo astronauts' lives

On April 24, 2021, according to Snopes, a claim about Cohen went viral on Reddit. Specifically, the post claimed that Jack Black's mother helped produce the Abort-Guidance System that returned the Apollo 13 astronauts home to safety.

All space missions have multiple redundancies and backup system upon backup system built into them in case this fails or that fails. And in the case of Apollo 13, the mission's failure was so complete that it endangered not only the mission, but the lives of the three men on board.

Fortunately, the craft was able to get home safely, thanks to the feverish work of the men and women who designed the system and worked 'round the clock to get Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise back to Earth alive and well.

One of those systems was the Abort-Guidance System, which was designed to help guide the craft to where it needed to be in the case of a failure. And Ms. Cohen worked on that system.

"When disaster struck the Apollo 13 mission, it was the Abort-Guidance System that brought the astronauts home safely," Neil Siegel wrote about the system, per the University of Southern California.

Ms. Cohen once solved a thorny engineering problem while she had other matters on her mind

For decades, working women have had to struggle with balancing their work duties with the requirements of their families as well, and Judith Cohen was no exception.

In the summer of 1969, an unspecified "engineering problem" popped up at NASA, and Cohen decided to take a crack at it. However, at the time, she was in the advanced stages of pregnancy, the bun in her oven being the future Mr. Jack Black.

Black's brother, Neil, wrote that their mother visited her office on the day that Jack would be born (August 28, 1969). And when it came time to deliver her son, Ms. Cohen continued to work even as she convalesced in a hospital bed.

"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," Siegel wrote in his mother's obituary, via the University of Southern California.