Apollo 11 scientist recalls terrifying NASA blunder that put Moon landing mission in doubt

Born in January 1938 in the Nile Delta town of Zagazig, his first years of primary school were in Damietta, an Egyptian port city north of the nation’s capital, Cairo.

It was here that his love of science and the natural world was born from the colourful rocks of Mokattam Mountain.

He later moved to Cairo with his family to study geology, chemistry, biology and mathematics, graduating with a bachelor of science in 1958.

Moving to the US, he gained a Masters degree followed by a PhD in geology, but a return to Egypt would see him try and fail to secure a position there.

He returned to the US in 1967 and interviewed successfully for Bellcomm, which provided engineering support to NASA’s headquarters, soon working his way into the Apollo programme.

During his candid interview with, he recalled the unique position he held in the early days as a non-US scientist and particularly an Egyptian – whose President at the time, Gamal Abdel Nasser – had forged ties with the Soviet Union.

Professor El-Baz recalls having to prove himself at NASA, but their decision to hire him would pay dividends in the future.

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