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The ground rules for this study are important to understand, since they influenced the detailed definition of the initiatives. The ground rules, set forward at the outset of this study, were:

• The initiatives should be considered in addition to currently planned NASA programs. They were not judged against, nor would they supplant, existing programs. 

• Each initiative should be developed independently. There is, of course, considerable synergism between certain initiatives. For example, one possible progression for human exploration could be the development of a lunar outpost, followed by an expedition to Mars. However, in order to provide a clear starting point for discussion, the four were considered to be distinct.

• The initiatives should achieve major milestones within two decades.

• The Humans to Mars initiative should be assumed to be an American venture. It was beyond the scope of this work to consider joint U.S./Soviet human exploration.

The candidate initiatives were developed and presented to NASA management to: (1) evaluate the initiatives and their implications, and (2) promote a discussion of the attributes of each initiative to determine the elements which are most important to NASA and to the United States.

Each initiative was developed by a separate task group, which discussed the goals, milestones, and elements of the initiative, and then determined the requisite transportation, space facilities, and technologies. For each initiative, an "advocate" was identified to work with appropriate NASA personnel to develop programmatic details. These four advocates presented the strategies, scenarios, requirements, and rationale to senior NASA management. 

Two initiatives, Mission to Planet Earth and Exploration of the Solar System, had a body of recent work from which to draw. The 1986 report of the Earth System Sciences Committee of the NASA Advisory Council, Earth System Science: A Program for Global Change, clearly states goals for the future observation of Earth. Two reports by the Solar System Exploration Committee of the NASA Advisory Council similarly articulate goals and recommendations for solar system exploration. Titled Planetary Exploration through Year 2000: Part One: A Core Program, and Part Two: An Augmented Program, these reports outline both a conservative, steady program for solar system exploration and a set of more challenging, exciting missions to be undertaken if resources to do so become available. The other two initiatives, Outpost on the Moon and Humans to Mars, did not have clearly delineated strategies available and no specific organization within NASA was dedicated to their advocacy.

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