Today marked 51 years since the renowned NASA objective touched down on the Moon on July 20, 1969, which saw Armstrong leap off the lunar lander Eagle six hours later to deliver his “one small action” speech to the millions viewing anxiously back in the world. Joined by Aldrin 19 minutes later on, the set invested two-and-a-quarter hours exploring what would end up being Tranquility Base, collecting more than 20kg of rock samples prior to they buried the United States flag into the surface to symbolize the end of the Space Race. One of the scientists who was in Mission Control that day – Professor Farouk El-Baz – revealed how he invested more than a year working with the astronauts on another very important task they had to complete, which would be important for the success of future space objectives.
“So there was a fair bit of fascinating photography of the Moon. We had these photographic sites, we needed to impress upon them the significance of when to take a look at them to get the ideal shadow [to take a good picture]. NASA engineers called these targets of opportunity, indicating they didn’t have to do it, but if they had an opportunity, they must go ahead and do it,” Professor El-Baz recalled a fond memory of Armstrong, who made a dash back to among the craters just before he was supposed to leave the lunar surface area to snap one of these targets.
Professor El-Baz discussed why the pictures were crucial at the time, and could still be pivotal in future area missions. At simply 31 years of ages, Professor El-Baz ended up being the secretary of the Lunar Landing Site Selection Committee for the Apollo program. Born in January 1938 in the Nile Delta town of Zagazig, he invested his early years in Damietta, an Egyptian port city north of the nation’s capital, Cairo.
“They did extremely well, in fact. Neil Armstrong, in specific, was very precise about it, we were always amazed. The really last thing he did – after the objective was done and they gathered all the product and started putting it back into the spacecraft and Buzz Aldrin began driving – was remember something crucial,” El-Baz said.
It was here that his love of science and the natural world was born from the colorful rocks of Mokattam Mountain. El-Baz later transferred to Cairo with his family to study geology, mathematics, biology, and chemistry, finishing with a bachelor’s degree in 1958. Moving to the United States, he gained a Masters degree followed by a PhD in geology, however a return to Egypt would see him stop working and try to protect a position there.
“The geologists had actually told him that we required to know the density of the soil layer of the surface of the Moon. You can only see this if you take a look at the crater and photo the rim and see how far you have to go down prior to you see solid rock. Anything on top of the strong rock would be the soil layer,” El-Baz continued.
El-Baz went back to the United States in 1967 and interviewed effectively for Bellcomm, which offered scientific support to NASA’s head office, quickly working his way into the Apollo program. He recalled the distinct 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 actually forged ties with the Soviet Union. He also remembered a fascinating, yet terrifying story from the objective that would inevitably cause the astronauts landing at the wrong zone.
“Neil kept in mind that prior to he finished and prior to he entered the spacecraft to leave, he ran – very fast – west towards a crater he saw from the range that would be great to do this with. He based on one side, looked at it, took the image, turned around and ran back – but it was a wonderful photo and very essential for us. From day one, we made absolutely particular that all of the photography of the Moon would be offered to the public and worldwide,” El-Baz added.
“We hoped anybody would take a look at the image and find something we missed and publish it, and it might benefit us. The science [deal with Armstrong and Aldrin] was when weekly or 2 weeks and we were provided an hour due to the fact that they had a really full schedule with screening, trying simulations, and so on. When we consulted with them, we had very specific subjects, we had really specific time, and we said what we desired to inform them,” El-Baz explained.
“We would show them maps where we desired them to take pictures and NASA called these targets of opportunity – the places we needed them to photograph since they were flying over locations that were important for the missions after. So there was rather a bit of interesting photography of the Moon,” El-Baz concluded. The 82-year-old – who was the leading geologist on the Apollo program and in charge of the choice of the landing website – revealed how he trained Armstrong and Aldrin to take images of “targets of opportunity” laid out by NASA.