Farouk El Baz was born in 1938 in the Nile Delta town of El Senbellawein. He received B.Sc. in Chemistry and Geology from Ain Shams University. In 1961, he received a M.S. degree in Geology from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy. In 1964 he received his PhD in Geology from Missouri University. In 1989, he received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the New England College. Currently, El-Baz is Research Professor and Director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University.
During the past 20 years in his research at Boston University, El-Baz utilizes 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 host groundwater. His analysis of these data resulted in the location of groundwater in the arid terrains of Egypt, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Darfur, Sudan.
From 1967 to 1972, El-Baz participated in the Apollo Programs 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. 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, the first joint American-Soviet space mission of July 1975. Emphasis was placed on photographing arid environments, particularly the Great Sahara of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.