Forty years ago, on July 20, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. Armstrong said, "That's one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind."

As a young reporter for NBC's Houston affiliate, KPRC-TV, I watched the landing on TV as many Americans and a record (at that time) worldwide audience also did. I had the privilege of meeting many of the early astronauts and so the experience was personal as well as professional. I also shared the pride we all felt in our country.

Apollo 11 was the fulfillment of President Kennedy's promise seven years before to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. It demonstrated what can be accomplished if we work together and subordinate our individuality and political ideology to a common goal and a greater good.

Space exploration since that historic day has produced advances in our scientific and medical knowledge. While expensive, it is a necessary endeavor and while we may wish that such exploration would always have peaceful purposes, we must also be vigilant to the uses America's enemies would put space supremacy if they had the opportunity.

In 1969, at a time of great divisions over Vietnam and civil rights, Americans came together to celebrate not only being first on the moon, but the values and virtues that made it happen.
These were the kinds of people America produced -- smart, tough, brave, adventurous and committed. They had what a book and movie called "The Right Stuff."

That "stuff" seems to be in shorter supply today. Instead, we focus on celebrity more than we do on substance and on feelings more than grit. While we celebrate this anniversary, we ought to remember what and who made it possible. It isn't too late to again embrace those virtues. The 40th anniversary of Apollo 11 would be a good time to start.

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.