Farouk El-Baz


Farouk El-Baz
فاروق الباز
F Al-Baz.jpg
Born (1938-01-02) January 2, 1938 (age 83)
United States
Alma materAin Shams University
Missouri University of Science and Technology
Known forProject Apollo
AwardsNASA's Apollo Achievement Award
Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal
Certificate of Merit of the World Aerospace Education Organization
Republic of Egypt Order of Merit - First Class
1989 Outstanding Achievement Award of the Egyptian American Organization
1991 Golden Door Award of the International Institute of Boston
Scientific career
Boston University

Farouk El-Baz (Egyptian Arabic: فاروق الباز‎, Pronunciation: [fɑˈruːʔ elˈbæːz, fæˈruːʔ]) (born January 2, 1938) is an Egyptian American space scientist and geologist, who worked with NASA in the scientific exploration of the Moon and the planning of the Apollo program. He was a leading geologist on the program, responsible for studying the geology of the Moon, the selection of landing sites for the Apollo missions, and the training of astronauts in lunar observations and photography. He played a key role in the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission, and later Apollo missions. He also came up with the idea of touchable Moon rocks at a museum, inspired by his childhood pilgimage to Mecca where he touched the Black Stone (which in Islam is believed to be sent down from the heavens).[1]

He is married, has four daughters, and six grandchildren. El-Baz is the brother of Osama El-Baz, senior advisor to Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak.

Currently, El-Baz is Research Professor and Director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts. He is Adjunct Professor of Geology at the Faculty of Science, Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt.

He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Geological Society of America Foundation, Boulder, Colorado, and a member of the Board of Directors of CRDF Global. He was also elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering in Washington, DC (2002) for selecting the landing sites for the Apollo missions, and for pioneering methods of discovering subsurface freshwater from space observations.


He was born on January 2, 1938 in Zagazig, Sharqia Governorate.[2] His family is originally from the Nile Delta village of Touqh el Aklaam, El Senbellawein Markaz, Dakahlia Governorate.[3]

In 1958, at the age of 20, he received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and geology from Ain Shams University.[3]

In 1961, he received a Master of Science in geology from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy (now Missouri University of Science and Technology).[3]

In 1964, at the age of 26, he received a Doctor of Philosophy in geology from the Missouri University of Science and Technology[4][5] after conducting research from 1962 to 1963 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[3]

In 1978, El-Baz was appointed Science Adviser to President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. He was charged with the selection of regions for land reclamation in the desert without detrimental effects on the environment. For his distinguished service, President Sadat awarded him Egypt's Order of Merit - First Class.

Post-doctorate period

El-Baz taught Geology at Assiut University, Egypt (1958–1960) and the Heidelberg University, Germany (1964–1965). He joined the Pan American - U.A.R. Oil Company in 1966, where he participated in the discovery of El-Morgan, the first offshore oil field in the Gulf of Suez.

The NASA period

El-Baz (right) training Ronald Evans and Robert Overmyer

The key scientist who helped NASA plan and identify the Moon landing location for Apollo 11 historic Moon landing in 1969, El-Baz is currently a leading expert in the study of deserts and how to find and sustain water in such environments in the Arab world.

From 1967 to 1972, El-Baz participated in the Apollo Program as Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning at Bellcomm Inc., a division of AT&T that conducted systems analysis for NASA. During these six years, he was Secretary of the Landing Site Selection Committee for the Apollo lunar landing missions, Principal Investigator of Visual Observations and Photography, and Chairman of the Astronaut Training Group. In addition to being the scientist who played a key role in helping NASA decide on the ideal Moon landing site for the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, El-Baz also served on the Apollo 15 rover mission in 1971. Throughout his time in the Apollo program, El-Baz joined NASA officials in briefing members of the press on the results of the lunar missions. His ability to simplify scientific jargon made his remarks on the program's scientific accomplishments often quoted by the media.

Soon after beginning with the Apollo Program, he was put to work poring over mountains of detailed photographs of the Moon's surface—a crucial step in selecting the most ideal and precise landing location based on lunar terrain, climate variations, and other factors. He also performed the same role for the famous Apollo 15 Lunar Roving Vehicle rover mission, and trained Apollo astronauts in the important skills of visual observation and space photography, in addition to instructing crew members on which rocks to collect and how to collect lunar soil. So pivotal was he to Apollo that in Tom Hanks' HBO TV-series, From the Earth to the Moon, El-Baz's role as an Apollo scientist and astronaut trainer was featured in a segment entitled, "The Brain of Farouk El-Baz," and a shuttle craft named El-Baz soared through the popular TV-series Star Trek: The Next Generation.[6]

His outstanding teaching abilities were confirmed by the Apollo astronauts. While orbiting the Moon for the first time during Apollo 15, Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden said, "After the King's [Farouk's nickname] training, I feel like I've been here before."[7]

The Post-Apollo period

After the Apollo Program ended in 1972, El-Baz joined the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC to establish and direct the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum. At the same time, he was elected as a member of the Lunar Nomenclature Task Group of the International Astronomical Union. In this capacity, he continues to participate in naming features of the Moon as revealed by lunar photographic missions.

In 1973, NASA selected him as principal investigator of the Earth Observations and Photography Experiment on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), the first joint American-Soviet space mission in July 1975. Emphasis was placed on photographing arid environments, particularly the Great Sahara of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, in addition to other features of the Earth and its oceans.

Emphasizing the study of the origin and evolution of arid landscapes, he collected field data during visits to every major desert in the world. One of his significant journeys took place soon after the United States and China had normalized relations in 1979, when he coordinated the first visit by American scientists to the deserts of northwestern China. The six-week journey was chronicled in National Geographic and Explorers Journal. His research on the origin and evolution of the desert resulted in his election as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

From 1982 until he joined Boston University in 1986, he was vice president of Itek Optical Systems of Lexington, Massachusetts. During these years he supervised the utilization of the Space Shuttle's Large Format Camera photographs.

El-Baz was elected Fellow of the Geological Society of America, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), and of the National Academy of Engineering (USA). In 1999, the Geological Society of America Foundation (GSAF) established the Farouk El-Baz Award for Desert Research, to annually reward excellence in arid land studies. In 2007 the GSAF also established the Farouk El-Baz Student Research Award to encourage desert research.

In April 2011, he joined the liberal Free Egyptians Party, founded by the telecommunications tycoon Naguib Sawiris.[8]

Desert research and theories

During the past 20 years in his research at Boston University, El-Baz has utilized satellite images to better understand the origin and evolution of desert landforms. He is credited with providing evidence that the desert is not man-made, but the result of major climatic variations. His research uncovered numerous sand-buried rivers and streams in the Sahara based on the interpretation of radar images.

These former water courses lead into depressions in the terrain, which he theorized must contain groundwater. His analysis of these data resulted in the location of groundwater in the arid terrains of Egypt, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), and perhaps Darfur in Sudan[9] (unless it dried up).[10]

The Kuwait Atlas

El-Baz piqued the interest of Biblical scholars around the world with his announcement of paleo-drainage from Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf. The idea that a river once flowed across the deserts of Arabia, and somehow connected with the Tigris and/or Euphrates Rivers, draws its evidence from satellite datasets, especially from the radar images taken during the 1994 mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. El-Baz studied the images, and noticed that traces of a defunct river that crossed northern Arabia from west to east were visible beneath the sands, thanks to the ground-penetrating capabilities of the radar technologies.[11]

He called it the Kuwait River, which is more popularly known as Wadi Al-Batin, an extension of Wadi Al-Rummah. The Wadi Al-Batin river system would have been responsible for deposition of the Dib DiBa Formation (similar to an alluvial fan deposit, both morphologically and sedimentologically). This river system may have been active 2500–3000 BC.[12]

Giza pyramid theory

In a National Geographic documentary film in 2002, El-Baz proposed a new source for the shape of The Pyramids at Giza. El-Baz believes that the ancient Egyptians chose to bury their dead in pyramid shaped structures because they knew from an earlier nomadic life that monumental pyramidal landforms, which abound in the Western Desert of Egypt, evade erosion.

Awards and honors


  • Farouk El-Baz, ed. (1984). Deserts and arid lands. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 90-247-2850-9 – via Internet Archive.


  1. ^ Reichhardt, Tony (June 7, 2019). "Twenty People Who Made Apollo Happen". Air & Space/Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved September 7, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "NASA newly-discovered asteroid named after Egyptian scientist Farouk El-Baz". Egypt Today. September 21, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e Biography of Dr. Farouk El-Baz Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine faroukelbaz.com. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
  4. ^ UMR Public Relations, 2004. News@Missouri S&T.[permanent dead link] accessed December 1, 2009][dead link].
  5. ^ “Dr. Farouk El-Baz Director.” accessed December 1, 2009. Archived August 31, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 26, 2016. Retrieved March 21, 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ Farouk El-Baz: With Apollo to the Moon, IslamOnline Archived October 31, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Farouk El-Baz joins Free Egyptians' Party", Al-Ahram Online, April 20, 2011, retrieved June 28, 2011
  9. ^ "Underground lake may bring Darfur peace: scientist" by Tanzina Vega, Reuters, July 18, 2007
  10. ^ Ancient Darfur lake 'is dried up', BBC, July 20, 2007
  11. ^ James K. Hoffmeier, The Archaeology of the Bible, Lion Hudson: Oxford, England, 34-35
  12. ^ The Pishon River - Found. by C.A. Salabach at Focus Magazine Archived June 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "JPL Small-Body Database Browser: 7371 El-Baz (1978 VA6)" (2019-01-10 last obs.). Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Retrieved September 26, 2019.
  14. ^ "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved September 26, 2019.

External links

  • Interview with Farouk El-Baz for NOVA series: To the Moon WGBH Educational Foundation, raw footage, 1998
  • Farouk El-Baz Official web site
  • Boston University Center for Remote Sensing