On July 16, 1969, Americans gathered around their television sets as legendary broadcaster Walter Cronkite reported live from the Kennedy Space Center. The Apollo 11 was set to launch at 9:32am ET, and the energy was palpable.
Watch Cronkite’s coverage for CBS News below:
45 years to the day later, Glenn wondered on radio this morning what has happened to the ‘anything is possible’ mentality that saw Americans put a man on the moon in remarkably short period of time. Is such a feat even possible anymore? Glenn believes it is, but it will take hard work to get back to the place in which the sky’s the limit.
Below is an edited transcript of the monologue:
Think if I said to you those things today. I mean, think of the schedule that Cronkite just laid out. People that were my age back then did not think when they were growing up that man would never go to the moon. Never.
My father was born in 1926. He lived in a house without electricity, without running water. In the summer months they didn’t even wear shoes. He remembers the Great Depression. He remembers World War II. And he told me once, ‘Glenn, nobody thought we could ever go to the moon. We didn’t even actually think that. That wasn’t possible.’ So the people that were there at the time never thought that that was even possible. But because John F. Kennedy – well, let me start earlier. Because Walt Disney and Wernher Von Braun happened to read articles saying, ‘We can put a man in space. We can put a man on the moon. We can actually go to Mars.’ He got Ward Kimball to animate something in 1955 called “Man in Space.”
Editor’s Note: You can watch Man in Space HERE.
Dwight Eisenhower, who couldn’t convince the Pentagon that we could go to space, watches it, calls Walt up and says, ‘Walt, you did it. I’ve been trying to convince the guys at the Pentagon that we could go to space. I don’t need to convince them. You just convinced the American people.’ And once the American people were convinced that something great could happen, that we could actually do it, once you laid out the facts in an understandable way… Man in Space explains the physics. It explains exactly how it works.
There’s nobody on television that would do anything like that today. Now, you have got to change the picture every 45 seconds. You can’t talk about real immigration reform. You can’t talk about real economics anymore. You can’t talk about money printing or how the Fed works or doesn’t work. You can’t talk about the caliphate. No one will take the time to explain it to you. Nobody will actually do it because it can’t be done. Yet we were on Fox News. We had the number one shows talking about Woodrow Wilson, number one shows talking about Road to Serfdom. And I didn’t have the talent or the money Walt Disney had.
Think about how small man is in the vastness of space. Here’s Cronkite on television in 1969, just an hour before we launch into the heavens and a week before man touches the moon for the very first time, and he lays it all out. Stage one: It’s going to take off at 9:32. Two hours later, another rocket boost will hurl that capsule all the way to the moon. Then they will circle the moon. Then they’ll land on the moon. And then on Monday – you want to talk about must-see TV – man will forever be remembered. This one man, just a regular guy from America, will actually be the first man to set foot and touch the face of the moon. And because Americans believed it could be done, they did it. For peaceful purposes, we did it.
Wernher Von Braun, the same guy that invented the V-2 rocket for Hitler, the same technology that was used for death, was used for miracles because he decided to put the Hitler playbook away and start to look at the possibilities. And then we had a president who wasn’t mired in the mud, but instead looked up to the sky and was reaching for the heavens and said, ‘We can do this. We are great when we work together. And this is something we can do. And it’s worthwhile. We will forever be remembered as doing something that no man had ever dreamt could even be done before. And we can do it within a 10-year period. We can do it by the end of the decade. Imagine.’
And look at what we’re mired in now. We can’t even have a conversation about whether the border is secure when there are thousands coming across. Forget about the math. Forget about the computers that didn’t exist. Forget about the systems that didn’t exist. We can’t even agree on the mathematics. We can’t even agree that the border fence isn’t complete. We can’t even agree that there’s a crisis when the President himself stands in front of the American people and says, ‘There’s a humanitarian crisis.’ At the same time, his own party, his own allies say, ‘There’s no crisis. What are you talking about? There’s no crisis. We just need $4 billion. But there’s no crisis. Everything is fine.’
Think about how small man is in the vastness of space. And now think that was 45 years ago when we reached out to touch the face of God. It was 45 years ago. And look how small man has become. Look how small we are now as people. And it has nothing to do with a comparison of the vastness of space. It has everything to do with our ideas and our dreams. It has everything to do with the fact that we won’t even face reality anymore. You can’t do great things if you don’t face reality.
I did an interview yesterday with CNN Reliable Sources. They came down. They spent the day with me yesterday. They asked some tough questions, but it was a fair interview. The host said to me yesterday, ‘So you’re trying to be a better man.’ Yes, I am. ‘You’re trying not to be divisive.’ Yes, I’m trying to tell the truth, but I’m not trying to be divisive about it. I’ve never tried to be divisive, but I’m trying to be more careful.
I don’t want to needlessly do any more damage. I never tried to do damage. It was not my intent. I really was trying to do basically what Walt Disney did with Man in Space. Give the information in an entertaining way, so people will watch it and consume it. That’s an important part of our job – make sure that people will watch it and understand it without dumbing it down. Try to get tough concepts across to people. That’s not easy to do. Sometimes you have to put a fish in a blender. Sometimes you have to boil a fake frog. That’s part of it.
And he asked me, ‘Why this change?’ And I said, ‘Because this change has been happening to me since I went to the Mall in Washington, D.C., and I stood there at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and I saw those 500,000 people who believed in something and it wasn’t me. And I believed in something. And I realized, we all believe in something better than what we have. We all believe in something bigger than what we’re currently doing. We all believe in something as grand as the moon shot. And that is: We can live in a world that is much more peaceful. We can live in a world where our neighbors get along, where we respect each other, where we’re decent to each other, where honesty and integrity and honor and courage and love make a difference. They play a role. They’re a centerpiece.’
And I said, ‘If we don’t, we’re in real trouble because I believe we are a country at civil war. We just haven’t started shooting each other yet. And we have to back away from that.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘How are you trying to be less divisive and you come out and say something like that?’ And it boggled my mind. I’m not rooting for Civil War. I’m not blaming the civil war on anybody. I’ll take blame. Go ahead, blame it all on me. History will show it’s not my fault. It’s all of our faults. We’re all doing it. We all have to be careful.
We’re all walking around with nitroglycerin. Let’s not shake each other. What do you say we don’t shake each other? Let’s try to be good and decent and better than we were before, and let’s try to do it – not before the end of the decade – but before the next election.
What do you think? Can we do that? I think we can. But it’s going to require all of us. But it’s first going to require all of us to tell each other the truth. Math makes a difference. We would have never made it to space if we would have lied about mathematics. We can’t lie to each other. We just have to expect the best from each other. We have to stop blaming each other. We do have to diagnose the problem. If you have cancer, do you smoke? Is it lung cancer? Well, then you’ve got to stop smoking cigarettes. You got to stop.
There’s no hate involved in that. It’s just the truth. And hope is found only through the truth.