Egyptian Muslim scientist Farouk El-Baz had a crucial role in moon landing of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Apollo 11. He, at 31 years age, was part of the ground crew while the history was being created about half a century ago in 1969.
Born in a Nile Delta town in 1938, El-Baz’s love for science grew at a distance of 200 kilometer from Cairo. He graduated with a bachelor of science in 1958 then went to the United States where he did his Masters and then doctorate in geology. He taught for 18 months at Heidelberg University in Germany. Bellcomm, a company that provided technical and engineering support to NASA, hired him in 1967. From here made his way to play his part in human’s walking on moon surface.
Neil Armstrong was commander of the Apollo 11 mission, while Edwin Eugene Aldrin was pilot of the lunar module. Farouk El-Baz was among the ground crew. He was secretary of the Lunar Landing Site Selection Committee for the Apollo Programme of NASA. His role was to identify a suitable site for landing.
Talking to Al-Jazeera, the 81-year-old said his team certified the adequacy of the landing site and it was such a big task that the success of the entire project depended on it. Any mishap could shelve Apollo mission for good, he said. He said the first human landing on moon caused his heart to almost skip a beat and the only thing he could think of was the success of the mission.
“The safety of the landing site was of particular concern to me as I was a member of the team that selected lunar sites for all six human landings on the moon,” he said.
El-Baz said they all breathed a sigh of relief when the spacecraft landed on the moon with just 60 seconds of fuel in its engine.
He said it was a completely unique experience for him than others at the NASA as he was a non-US scientist, a mining geologist with no background in astronomy and an Arab and an Egyptian at a time when the Soviets were all over Egypt. He said he had to go through a struggle to prove his worth and be respected.
On instruction of the Egyptian scientist, the Apollo 15 astronaut also issued greetings in multiple languages from space including in Arabic. Command module pilot for the mission, Al Worden had repeat the words, “Marhaba ahl el-ard min Endeavour elaykum salam” or “Hello people of the Earth – greetings from [spacecraft] Endeavour.”