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International Planetarium Society

Farouk El-Baz
Monday June 28, 2010

The 20th International Planetarium Society Conference (IPS2010)
A planetarium may be considered a “House of Star Science”, where a person may seek knowledge of the universe and contemplate the place of humankind in its vastness. One distinctive features of this medium is the contemporaneous involvement of the human sensors of sight, sound and mind. Therefore, there is an education mission for each planetarium to accomplish and, subsequently, a need for updating the state of knowledge. This requires not only constant surveys of recent discoveries in the field, but also regular communication with institutions that provide similar services worldwide. For this reason I applaud the initiative of the International Planetarium Society and its 2010 Conference at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina – the resurrection of an ancient store of universal knowledge. As a geologist and veteran of NASA’s program of lunar exploration, my intention is to convey to participants of this conference some examples of the reasons for the unequal success of Apollo. The most critical reason being that it was a program with a grand objective that everyone could understand, and a very specific time table: “To send a man to the Moon and bring him safely to the Earth within a decade.” This motivated all participants in the project to absolute limits. This motivation, in large part, assured the superb accomplishments of the momentous endeavor. In the post-Apollo era, IMAX presents an example of following up an idea and assuring its utility in scientific education of the masses in an entertaining way. It is a story of an innovation that was supported by a promoter, and implemented by a visionary public educator. That implementation occurred during my tenure as research director of the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. The influence of such an endeavor on science for the lay person was enormous, and deserves study and emulation. Today, we are very lucky to witness a steady stream of astronomical discoveries by the Hubble Space Telescope. This great instrument has expanded our knowledge of the universe many fold. Its results will surely influence the topics to be dealt with by planetaria worldwide. One of our future objectives should be to establish a mechanism to bring to the general public the results of its discoveries in near real-time. In so doing we would expand the knowledge and heighten the interest of younger generations. This would assure that they would continue the quest for knowledge of our vast and fascinating universe.
Since 1986, Dr. Farouk El-Baz has served as Research Professor and Director of the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing, and Adjunct Professor in its Departments of Archaeology and Electrical and Computer Engineering. He also serves as Faculty Advisor to two of the university’s student organizations: the “1001 Wells for Darfur,” and the “Egyptian Club.” His early career witnessed the initiation of the science and technology of remote sensing by photography of the Moon in preparation for the Apollo missions. He served as Secretary of the Lunar Landing Site Selection Committee and Chairman of Astronaut Training in Orbital Observations and Photography. His role was recognized in Episode 10 “Galileo Was Right” of the TV series From the Earth to the Moon, produced by Tom Hanks for HBO, where his training of the astronauts was featured in a segment entitled: “The Brain of Farouk “El-Baz”. In his honor, the popular television program Star Trek: The Next Generation featured a shuttle craft named “El-Baz”. Upon completion of the Apollo program, he established and directed (1973-82) the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. To apply the knowledge gained form Apollo, he served as Principal Investigator of the Earth Observation and Photography Experiment on the Apollo-Soyuz Mission. Emphasis on this first American-Russian space mission of 1975 was placed on photography of desert landforms. In order to confirm the interpretations of the orbital photographs, he initiated field excursions throughout the Western Desert of Egypt. These field missions accumulated new insights on the origin and evolution of desert landforms. His observations were also key to a better understanding of the features that were revealed by photographic missions to Mars. The significance of the findings was underlined by a NASA publication on the analogy of the features of Mars to those in Egypt. In 1978, he was appointed Science Advisor to the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and asked select segments in the desert that would be amenable to development. His detailed studies led to the recognition of the symbiotic relationship between the dry environment and the people who populated the desert at the dawn of ancient Egyptian civilization. He was appointed Senior Advisor to the Egyptian Antiquities Organization and participated in the study of the Tomb of Nefertari near Luxor in preparation for its conservation by the Getty Conservation Institute. He also led the National Geographic Society’s team to unveil the second “Solar Boat” south of the Great Pyramid of Giza, and was Science Advisor to the committee responsible for the preservation of the Great Sphinx. As a pioneer of applying remote sensing in archaeology, he was elected member of the prestigious US National Academy of Engineering and became chairman of its Charles Stark Draper Prize award committee and member of its committee on the Grand Challenges of Engineering. He also chaired the US National Academies committees on Geological Sciences and the Keck Futures Initiative on Imaging Science. In 1999, the Geological Society of America (GSA) established the “Farouk El-Baz Award for Desert Research,” an annual award aimed at rewarding excellence in arid land studies by experts worldwide. It was followed by the “Farouk El-Baz Student Award” to be presented annually to one male and one female graduate students to encourage desert research throughout the world.

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