Excerpts from the report by Sally K. Ride, the nation's first woman in space and a member of the special commission that investigated the Challenger space shuttle disaster, prepared for National Aeronautics and Space Administration head James C. Fletcher:

For two decades, the United States was the undisputed leader in nearly all civilian space endeavors. However, over the last decade the United States has relinquished, or is relinquishing, its leadership in certain critical areas; one such area is the exploration of Mars. With the Mariner and Viking missions in the 1960s and 1970s, this country pioneered exploration of Mars -- but no American spacecraft has visited that planet since 1976. Our current plans for future exploration of Mars include only the Mars Observer mission, to be launched in 1992. In contrast, the Soviets have announced a program of extensive robotic exploration of the Martian surface, beginning in 1988 and extending through the 1990s.

The Soviets are now the sole long-term inhabitants of low Earth orbit. The first, and only, U.S. space station, Skylab, was visited by three crews of astronauts before it was vacated in 1974; the U.S. has had no space station since. The Soviets have had eight space stations in orbit since the mid-1970s. The latest, Mir, was launched in 1986 and could accommodate cosmonauts and scientific experiments for nearly a decade before the U.S. space station can accommodate astronauts in 1995.

The United States has clearly lost leadership in these two areas, and is in danger of being surpassed in many others during the next several years.

The National Space Policy of 1982, which "establishes the basic goals of United States policy," includes the directive to "maintain United States space leadership." It further specifies that "the United States is fully committed to maintaining world leadership in space transportation," and that the civilian space program "shall be conducted . . . to preserve the United States leadership in critical aspects of space science, applications, and technology."

Leadership cannot simply be proclaimed -- it must be earned. As NASA evaluates its goals and objectives within the framework of the National Space Policy, the agency must first understand what is required to "maintain U.S. space leadership," since that understanding will direct the selection of national objectives.

Leadership does not require that the U.S. be preeminent in all areas and disciplines of space enterprise. In fact, the broad spectrum of space activities and the increasing number of spacefaring nations make it virtually impossible for any nation to dominate in this way. Being an effective leader does mandate, however, that this country have capabilities which enable it to act independently and impressively when and where it chooses, and that its goals be capable of inspiring others -- at home and abroad -- to support them. It is essential for this country to move promptly to determine its priorities and to make conscious choices to pursue a set of objectives which will restore its leadership status.

Leadership results from both the capabilities a country has acquired and the active demonstration of those capabilities; accordingly, the United States must have, and also be perceived as having, the ability to meet its goals and achieve its objectives.

A U.S. space leadership program must have two distinct attributes. First, it must contain a sound program of scientific research and technology development -- a program that builds the nation's understanding of space and the space environment, and that builds its capabilities to explore and operate in that environment. The United States will not be a leader in the 21st century if it is dependent on other countries for access to space or for the technologies required to explore the space frontier.

Second, the program must incorporate visible and significant accomplishments; the United States will not be perceived as a leader unless it accomplishes feats which demonstrate prowess, inspire national pride, and engender international respect and a worldwide desire to associate with U.S. space activities . . . .

To establish a realistic level of expectation, NASA must consider the current condition of the space program, its strengths and limitations, and its capabilities for growth. Any bold initiative has to begin with and then build on today's space program, which unfortunately lacks some fundamental capabilities. For example, our most critical commodity, Earth-to-orbit transportation, is essential . . . . But the space shuttle is grounded until at least June of 1988, and when it does return to flight status, the flight rate will be considerably lower than that projected before the Challenger accident (a four-shuttle fleet is estimated to be capable of 12 to 14 flights per year).

In hindsight, it is easy to recognize that it was a crippling mistake to decree that the space shuttle would be this country's only launch vehicle. Several studies since the Challenger accident have recommended that the civilian space program include expendables in its fleet of launch vehicles. This strategy relieves some of the burden from the shuttle, gives the country a broader, more flexible launch capability, and makes the space program less vulnerable in the event of an accident.

The problem of limited launch capability or availability will be magnified during the assembly and operation of the space station. Currently, NASA plans to use only the space shuttle to transport cargo and people to and from the space station. This places a heavy demand on the shuttle (six to eight flights per year), but more important, it makes the space station absolutely dependent on the shuttle. If shuttle launches should be interrupted again in the mid-1990s, this nation must still have access to space and the means to transport cargo and people to and from the space station. The importance of this capability was emphasized by the National Commission on Space in its report, "Pioneering the Space Frontier": "Above all, it is imperative that the U.S. maintain a continuous ability to put both humans and cargo into orbit."

From now until the mid-1990s, Earth-to-orbit transportation is NASA's most pressing problem. A space program that can't get to orbit has all the effectiveness of a navy that can't get to the sea. America must develop a cadre of launch vehicles that can first meet the near-term commitments of the civilian space program and then grow to support projected programs or initiatives . . . .

Exploring, prospecting, and settling Mars are clearly the ultimate goals of the next several decades of human exploration. But what strategy should be followed to attain those goals?

Any expedition to Mars is a huge undertaking, which requires a commitment of resources which must be sustained over decades. This task group has examined only one possible scenario for a Mars initiative -- a scenario designed to land humans on Mars by 2005. This time-scale requires an early and significant investment in technology; it also demands a heavy-lift launch vehicle, a larger shuttle fleet, and a transportation depot at the space station near the turn of the century. This would require an immediate commitment of resources and an approximate tripling of NASA's budget during the mid-1990s.

More important, NASA would be hard pressed to carry the weight of this ambitious initiative in the 1990s without severely taxing existing programs. NASA's available resources were strained to the limit flying nine shuttle flights in one year. It will be difficult to achieve the operations capacity to launch and control 12 to 14 shuttle flights per year, and assemble, test, and continuously operate a space station in the mid-1990s. It would not be wise to embark on an ambitious program whose requirements could overwhelm those of the shuttle and the space station during the critical next decade . . . .

There is the very real danger that if the U.S. announces a human Mars initiative at this time, it could escalate into another space race. Whether such a race was real or perceived, there would be constant pressure to set a timetable, to accelerate it if possible, and to avoid falling behind. Schedule pressures, as the Rogers Commission {on the Challenger disaster} noted, can have a real, adverse effect. The pressure could make it difficult to design and implement a program which would have a strong foundation and adequate momentum to sustain itself beyond the first few piloted missions. This could turn an initiative that envisions the eventual development of a habitable outpost into another one-shot spectacular. Such a dead-end venture does not have the support of most NASA personnel. Neither, according to the National Commission on Space, does it have the support of the public. A "theme brought forward repeatedly" in the commission's extensive public sessions was "a strong wish that our next goal for piloted space activity not be another Apollo -- a one-shot foray or a political stunt." . . .

Settling Mars should be our eventual goal, but it should not be our next goal. Sending people to and from Mars is not the only issue involved. Understanding the requirements and implications of building and sustaining a permanent base on another world is equally important. We should adopt a strategy of natural progression which leads, step by step, in an orderly, unhurried way, inexorably toward Mars . . . .

The establishment of a lunar outpost would be a significant step outward from Earth -- a step that combines adventure, science, technology, and perhaps the seeds of enterprise. Exploring and prospecting the moon, learning to use lunar resources and work within lunar constraints, would provide the experience and expertise necessary for further human exploration of the solar system.

The lunar initiative is a major undertaking. Like the Mars initiative, it requires a national commitment that spans decades. It, too, demands an early investment in advanced technology, Earth-to-orbit transportation, and a plan for space station evolution. Even considering its gradual evolution over the first five years, the ambitious buildup of the lunar outpost envisioned in this scenario would require a high level of effort in the mid-to-late 1990s, and would place substantial demands on transportation and orbital facilities. This is a period when resources may be scarce . . . .

Although explorers have reached the moon, the moon has not been fully explored. This initiative would push back frontiers, not to achieve a blaze of glory, but to explore, to understand, to learn, and to develop; it would place the Apollo program into a broader context of continuing exploration, spanning several generations of Americans. And it fits beautifully into a natural progression of human expansion that leads "from the highlands of the moon to the plains of Mars."