Prof. El-Baz was born on 1 January 1938 in Zagazig, Egypt.

He obtained a BSc degree in Chemistry and Geology from Ain Shams University, Egypt (1958), and an MSc degree (1961) and a PhD degree (1964) both in geology from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, Rolla, Missouri, USA. He received Honorary Doctoral degrees from New England College, Henniker, New Hampshire, USA (1989); Mansoura University, Mansoura, Egypt, (2003); American University in Cairo, Cairo, Egypt (2004); and University of Missouri-Rolla, Missouri, USA (2004).

He began his career teaching Geology at Assiut University, Egypt (1958-1960), and at the Heidelberg University, Germany (1964-1966).  He then worked as Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning and of Lunar Exploration at Bellcomm of NASA Headquarters in Washington DC, USA, during which time he participated in the NASA Apollo lunar program as Secretary of the Site Selection Committee for the lunar landings, Chairman of the Astronaut Training Group, and Principal Investigator for visual observations and photography (1967-1972). He established and directed the Centre for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, USA (1973-1982), and served as Vice-President for International Development and for Science and Technology at Itek Optical Systems in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA (1982-1986). In the latter year he joined Boston University to establish and direct the Center for Remote Sensing

He is known for his pioneering work in the applications of space photography to the understanding of arid terrain - particularly the location of groundwater resources and has contributed to interdisciplinary field investigations in all major deserts of the world and is President of the Arab Society of Desert Research.  He served on the Steering Committee of Earth Sciences of the Smithsonian Institution, and the Arid and Semi-Arid Research Needs Panel of the National Science Foundation.  He was Science Adviser to the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (1978-1981).

He has received many honors and awards including: NASA's Apollo Achievement Award, the Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal and Special Recognition Award, Order of Merit - First Class of Egypt, Outstanding Achievement Award of the Egyptian American Organization (1989), the Award for Public Understanding of Science and Technology of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1992), and the Michael T. Halbouty Human Needs Award of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (1996).

Prof. El-Baz was elected as a Fellow of the IAS in 1998.