Dr. Farouk El-Baz, a Scientist Egyptians Are Proud Of!

Dr. Farouk El-Baz, a Scientist Egyptians Are Proud Of!

By Mona Ibrahim

Photo of Dr. Farouk El-Baz
Photograph of Dr. Farouk El-Baz

Egypt has long been a country known for its mathematicians and scientists. Since ancient times, many of the worlds leading scientists have come from Egypt, and modern times are no exception. One of the most influential modern scientists to hail from Egypt is renowned former NASA scientist Dr. Farouk El-Baz.

Dr. Farouk El-Baz was born on January 2nd, 1938 in Zagazig, a town on the Nile Delta. He studied at Ain Shams University, and at age 20 received a B.Sc. in Chemistry and Geology. Soon after, Dr. El-Baz traveled to the United States, and received a MS degree in Geology from what is now Missouri University of Science and Technology in 1961. In 1964 he received his PhD in Geology from the Missouri University of Science, and throughout the years Dr. El-Baz has received many other honorary degrees from universities across the United States and Egypt.

Dr. El-Baz even taught Geology at Assiut University for two years between 1958 1960, and the University of Heidelberg, Germany from 1964 1965.

Dr. El-Baz also participated in the first off-shore oilfield in the Gulf of Suez, the El-Morgan, while working with the Pan American U.A.R. Oil Company in 1966.

Beginning in 1967, Dr. El-Bazs extensive knowledge and expertise was utilized when he joined NASA as Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning on the Apollo Program. Over the next 6 years, Dr. El-Baz was given the responsibility of selecting sites for the Apollo missions. Among a few different titles he held, Dr. El-Baz also held the title of Chairman of the Astronaut Training Group. Dr. El-Baz did such a fantastic and detailed job in preparing the astronauts of Apollo 15 for their mission that Command Module Pilot Alfred Worden said, After the King's [Farouk's nickname] training, I feel like I've been here before. Dr. El-Baz was so talented in translating complex scientific terms into laymans terms that he was also regularly in charge of briefing the press on the results of the missions, often being quoted.

Photo of Dr. Farouk El-Baz with Apollo 17 team
Dr. Farouk El-Baz meeting and preparing with Apollo 17 team

After the completion of his tasks with NASA, Dr. El-Baz joined the esteemed Smithsonian Institution, and was also elected as a member of the Lunar Nomenclature Task Group of the International Astronomical Union, which he is still a part of, and where he names characteristics of the moon as exhibited in photographs taken on Lunar missions.

Having been such an asset in his previous work with them, NASA appointed Dr. El-Baz to the post of Principal Investigator of the Earth Observations and Photography Experiment on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP), which was the first combined space mission between America and the USSR in July 1975. On this mission a strong priority was placed on capturing images of dry and arid environments such as the Sahara Desert, as well as other features of the planet. Some of these images are displayed in the halls of Boston University, where Dr. El-Baz now teaches.
Dr. El-Baz spent several years traveling to different ends of the globe to collect data, even chronicling one of his journeys for National Geographic and the Explorers Journal. Having spent so much time and effort researching the origins of deserts, Dr. El-Baz was elected as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Next, Dr. El-Baz joined Itek Optical Systems as President, where he oversaw the usage of the Space Shuttles Large Format Camera photos.

As a service to his native Egypt, Dr. El-Baz also served as Science Advisor to the late President Anwar El Sadat, from 1978 1981, where he was responsible for selecting areas of desert land that could be developed without harming the environment, to accommodate Egypts growing population. In 1986, Dr. El-Baz joined Boston University as a Research Professor and the Director of the Center for Remote Sensing. He continues to conduct research using satellite images to learn about the worlds deserts. He is even responsible for changing common belief that deserts are man-made by giving evidence and spreading the concept that they are, in fact, the result of major changes in the worlds climates. Dr. El-Baz is also accredited with locating groundwater in the dry and arid locations of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and his native Egypt. He found the groundwater by analyzing radar images of depressions in the terrain, believing that these depressions must be ground water.

Photo of Dr. Farouk El-Baz with Late Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat
Dr. Farouk El-Baz meeting with Late Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat

Dr. El-Baz continues to inspire students through his classes and research at Boston University. As a result of many of the life-changing and life-improving research and projects, Dr. El-Baz was elected Fellow of the Geological Society of America and to the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World TWAS, among others. A Farouk El-Baz Award for Desert Research has even been established by the Geological Society of America, and the Farouk El-Baz Student Research Award to inspire the new generation to continue desert research. Dr. El-Baz has led a very full life and contributed much to science, and to his native Egypt. Its safe to say that Dr. El-Baz is one of Egypts most influential scientists, and one the country is very proud of!
**This is the first in a series of monthly articles taking a look at Famous Egyptians many people dont realize are Egyptian. Stay tuned for Januarys article!