By Danielle Lane, Managing Editor
Born on August 16, 1933 in Brooklyn, New York, Judith Love Cohen was a pioneer for female space engineers as well as a successful author and publisher.
Growing up, Cohen always excelled in math and science. She was so talented that by the fifth grade her classmates were paying her to do their homework. By high school, her school guidance counselor became nervous that Cohen might not choose to work in her uncle’s dress shop as the other women in her family did. As an adult, Cohen once recounted the time a teacher told her that “I think you ought to go to a nice finishing school and learn to be a lady.” But Judith Cohen did not want to go to finishing school, she did not want to “be a lady,” and she did not want to work in her uncle’s dress shop.
Rather, Judith Cohen went on to study math, science, and engineering at Brooklyn College and the University of Southern California. During this time she was the only female in all of her classes. “It was really difficult psychologically and emotionally to be better than all the boys in math and science,” Cohen once said about the experience. Nevertheless she persisted and went on to become a head engineer for NASA and worked on the technology for the Minuteman missile, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, and the Apollo Space Program.
Of all her accomplishments, the greatest was the work she did for the Apollo 13 mission. During the 1970 mission, the crew lost power in the aircraft causing their oxygen supply to burst. Using the Abort-Guidance System that Cohen pioneered, the crew was able to safely navigate back to Earth.
After her retirement in 1990, Cohen went on to write and publish over 20 books including the “You Can Be” series and A Clean Planet: The Solar Power Story to promote and encourage female scientists. Cohen has said that her main motivation for writing the books was because she believed she would have benefited from similar literature as a child, and she commented on this, saying, “[it] really would have helped encourage my feeling good about myself, that this was the direction I wanted to go. I didn’t see role models. I didn’t get encouragement other than at home.”
Until her death in 2016, Cohen continued to educate young females. She is the mother of actor Jack Black.