Los Angeles Almanac Logo
Home | All Almanac Topics | People

The Moonwalkers Among Us

Four astronauts who walked on the moon and their significant connections to Los Angeles County.
Earthrise Over Lunar Surface, 1969

View from Apollo 11 command module of "earthrise" over the lunar surface, 1969. Image courtesy of NASA.

Neil Armstrong - Apollo 11 (July 16-24, 1969)

Neil Armstrong

NASA portrait of astronaut Neil Armstrong. Image courtesy of NASA.

Neil Armstrong (b. 1930; d. 2012) was mission commander for the historic Apollo 11 mission and the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon. He was joined on the lunar surface by lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin. Armstrong's connection to Los Angeles County began years earlier, when, in 1955, he and his wife, Janet, moved to Southern California. Armstrong had accepted for a job as a civilian test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base. For a short period of time, Armstrong lived in bachelor quarters on the base while Janet stayed in Westwood in Los Angeles. Armstrong soon rented a home for the two of them in the Antelope Valley, located on East Avenue L, between Lancaster and Palmdale. They later moved to another rented house about 15 miles south in Juniper Hills at the northern foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Armstrong’s remained in the Antelope Valley until 1963, when they moved to Houston after Neil was accepted into NASA astronaut training.

Buzz Aldrin

Neil Armstrong in the lunar module, 1969. Image courtesy of NASA.

Armstrong returned to Los Angeles in 1970 to the engineering school at the University of Southern California (USC). It was reported that he conducted a one-hour seminar there on the technical aspects of landing the Apollo 11 lunar module on the lunar surface in 1969. He was awarded the Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering immediately afterward.

In 2005, Armstrong returned to USC to speak at its commencement ceremony.

Armstrong's test pilot assignment at Edwards Air Force Base was at what later became the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center. In 2014, the center was renamed Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center in his honor.

Neil Armstrong and X-15 Test Aircraft, 1960

Test pilot Neil Armstrong next to X-15 experimental aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base, 1960. Image courtesy of NASA.

Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin - Apollo 11 (July 16-24, 1969)

NASA Astronaut Buzz Aldrin

NASA portrait of astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Image courtesy of NASA.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin (b. 1930) was the Apollo 11 lunar module pilot, landing the first manned spacecraft from earth on the moon. After Neil Armstrong, Aldrin became the second man to set foot on the lunar surface. His connection to Los Angeles County did not begin until after his service as an astronaut. In 1971, Aldrin was assigned, as a U.S. Air Force colonel, to command the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. He served in that position until his retirement from the Air Force in 1972.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon, 1969

Buzz Aldrin on the Lunar Surface, 1969. Image courtesy of NASA.

At some point after his retirement, along with starting a rocket-design company and a non-profit science education foundation, Aldrin tried his hand at selling cars in Beverly Hills, a pursuit that he apparently was not successful at. Aldrin resided in Los Angeles from at least 1998 through 2013. In 2014, he sold his Wilshire Corridor property in Westwood and relocated to Florida.

Aldrin and his fellow Apollo 11 crewmembers have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin when Commander of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base. Image courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

David Scott - Apollo 15 (July 26-August 7, 1971)

NASA Astronaut David Scott

NASA portrait of astronaut David Scott. Image courtesy of NASA.

Astronaut David Scott (b. 1932) was mission commander of Apollo 15 and the seventh astronaut to set foot on the moon. He was joined on the lunar surface by lunar module pilot James Irwin. Scott’s connection to Los Angeles County, like Buzz Aldrin, occurred after his service as an astronaut. In 1975, Scott retired from the Air Force to become the civilian Director of NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (renamed Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center in 2014) at Edwards Air Force Base. Scott moved with his family to live in nearby Lancaster in Los Angeles County. He retired from NASA in 1977, but remained in Lancaster, there founding his own company, Scott Science and Technology, Inc., that assisted private companies with delivering satellites into space on NASA space shuttles. Scott is said to currently live in Los Angeles.

David Scott on Moon, 1971

David Scott seated in the Lunar Roving Vehicle on the moon, 1971. Image courtesy of NASA.

Harrison “Jack” Schmitt - Apollo 17 (December 7-19, 1972)

NASA Astronaut Harrison Schmitt

NASA portrait of astronaut Harrison Schmitt. Image courtesy of NASA.

Harrison Schmitt (b. 1935) was the 12th man on the lunar surface and the second-to-last to step off it. Like Neil Armstrong before him, Schmitt was a civilian when he visited the moon, but, unlike Armstrong and all other Apollo moonwalkers, he had never served in the military. Schmitt was a professional geologist who received his Bachelor’s degree in geology in 1957 at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena. After later studying geology at the University of Oslo in Norway and obtaining a Doctorate degree from Harvard University, Schmitt went on to serve as the mission scientist for the Apollo 11 mission. In 1970, he became NASA’s first scientist-astronaut assigned to space flight upon being selected as a back-up crewmember for Apollo 15. In 1972, under pressure from lunar geologists, who lobbied for an actual scientist to visit the moon, NASA assigned Schmitt to the Apollo 17 crew as its geologist and lunar module pilot. Apollo 17 was the last of NASA’s Apollo moon missions, making Schmitt and Apollo 17 Mission Commander Eugene Cernan the last of the moonwalkers. Schmitt was the second-to-last man on the lunar surface, boarding the lunar module for the final time just ahead of Cernan.

Astronaut Harrison Schmitt on Lunar Surface, 1972

Apollo 17 astronaut and geologist Harrison Schmitt on lunar surface, 1972. Image courtesy of NASA.


Also see: From Downey, California, to the Moon