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Here's How Jack Black's Mom Played Her Role in a Real-Life Thriller to Rescue Apollo 13 Astronauts

Judith Love Cohen donned many hats, that of an engineer, writer and dancer but her most remarkable achievement remains Apollo 13.
PUBLISHED MAY 21, 2024
Cover Image Source: Instagram/@jackblack
Cover Image Source: Instagram/@jackblack

Hollywood star Jack Black is known for his roles in movies such as "Shallow Hal" and "School of Rock" apart from the voice behind "Kung Fu Panda," and most of the world knows Judith Love Cohen as his mother. But beyond that, the woman is known for her contribution to space exploration which includes her work on a system that managed to bring Apollo 13 astronauts back to safety, as reported by USA Today. She may not be part of Jack Black's movies, but the star was part of the real-life thriller that his mother was involved in. Doubts raised about her role in the rescue mission prompted fact-checking by media outlets and it revealed her stature in her field. 

Image Source: President Nixon and Apollo 13 crewmen at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, USA, 18 April 1970. President Richard M. Nixon and the Apollo 13 crew pay their respects to the US flag during post-mission ceremonies. Astronauts James A. Lovell Jr., (United States Navy Captain, salutes the flag) commander; John L. Swigert Jr., command module pilot (right); and Fred W. Haise Jr., lunar module pilot (left), were presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the Chief Executive. The Apollo 13 splashdown occurred at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970, about a day and a half prior to the award presentation. Artist NASA. (Photo by Heritage Space/Heritage Images via Getty Images)
Image Source: President Nixon and Apollo 13 crewmen at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, USA, 18 April 1970. President Richard M. Nixon and the Apollo 13 crew pay their respects to the US flag during post-mission ceremonies. Astronauts James A. Lovell Jr., (United States Navy Captain, salutes the flag) commander; John L. Swigert Jr., command module pilot (right); and Fred W. Haise Jr., lunar module pilot (left), were presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the Chief Executive. The Apollo 13 splashdown occurred at 12:07:44 p.m. (CST), April 17, 1970, about a day and a half prior to the award presentation. Artist NASA. (Photo by Heritage Space/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Not only did she excel as an engineer in her lifetime, but she also collaborated with the New York Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company as a dancer and contributed to many children's books. But the most challenging for her was responding to the crisis involving Apollo 13, which was a space mission launched from Kennedy Space Center. The spaceship had Jim Lovell, Fred Haise, and Jack Swigert on board with the objective of successfully completing humanity's third lunar landing. The astronauts were also handed the assignment of exploring the Fra Mauro region of the Moon. Unfortunately, various circumstances caused the project's budget to shrink which almost caused one of the biggest catastrophes in the history of space exploration.

During the journey to the moon, an oxygen tank exploded causing panic aboard the spaceflight, and the crew immediately contacted the home base. The explosion of the second oxygen tank also made the first one useless. The nightmarish possibility of a spaceship losing electrical power and water while traveling toward the moon was slowly becoming a reality. The ship went into “lifeboat mode” and a lunar module "Aquarius" was utilized to keep the ship up and running. All of these factors aided Apollo 13 in coming close to the Earth, but for it to enter the planet the command module that had been switched off needed to be turned back on. Procedures to get the system activated needed to be written in three days and all hands were on deck. Meticulous detailing and safety features in place aided the pursuit and Apollo 13 was back on Earth, with no one harmed in the flight.


 
 
 
 
 
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One of the engineers who was involved in making this return possible was Cohen. She was so committed to the whole rescue that she called from the hospital with a plan to get the spacecraft safely back to Earth, known as the "Abort Guidance System." At this time Cohen was about to give birth to Jack Black, but didn't let her vulnerable position come in the way of her commitment to the rescue operation. This was not the only space operation Cohen worked on but for her, the contribution towards Apollo 13's rescue was the "highlight of her career" as per her memorial. “When disaster struck the Apollo 13 mission, it was the Abort-Guidance System that brought the astronauts home safely,” Neil Siegel, Love Cohen's son wrote. “Judy was there when the Apollo 13 astronauts paid a ‘thank you’ to the TRW facility in Redondo Beach.” She also gave birth to Jack Black around the same time when she gave a new life to astronauts.

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