- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 18, 2005

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — All companies set goals, but newly formed 4Frontiers Corp. is eyeing some expansive horizons.

The company’s mission: to open a small human settlement on Mars within about 20 years.

Sure, it may sound far-fetched. And the company’s initial plans are a lot more terrestrial than celestial, like developing here on Earth a 25,000-square-foot replica of a Mars settlement, then charging tourists admission.

But the people behind the venture are quite serious — as serious as the $25 million they want to raise from investors.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Homnick, a former manager for Intel Corp. who has registered 4Frontiers in Florida, says he has raised “a couple million” dollars from people, but would not name them. He hopes for an initial public offering within five years.

That still leaves a lot of questions: Why should people live on Mars? And if it’s going to be done, should a private enterprise engage in what would be one of humanity’s defining moments?

Besides, what’s in it for investors?

Mr. Homnick and his co-founders — Bruce Mackenzie , a longtime Mars aficionado, and Joseph Palaia, 25, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology master’s student, — are ready with several answers.

First, they say, humankind needs a new frontier to explore, with all the intellectual and engineering challenges that homesteading Mars would present.

Also, who knows the fate of our humble Earth? Will we meet an early end at the hands of an asteroid, warfare, disease or some other catastrophe?

In that case, we would be glad our civilization had been preserved by some colonists on Mars — and perhaps elsewhere in the galaxy. That broader vision of space settlement gives 4Frontiers its name: the frontiers being the Earth, the moon, Mars and the asteroids.

“It’s the nature of life — life tries to expand and tries to adapt,” Mr. Mackenzie says. “If there’s a forest fire in one valley, then all of the organisms in the next valley will slowly creep over the ridge and repopulate that valley. Any species that don’t do it eventually die out.”

Going to space, he thinks, is as if “all of Earth’s life, acting together, is trying to get into the next valley. And the only way we can do it is by building rockets.”

Mr. Mackenzie, a software developer, has devoted much of his energy to a nonprofit group called the Mars Foundation, which aims to advance knowledge about how to colonize the planet. But he decided a private venture such as 4Frontiers also would be necessary, to drive things forward.

Although President Bush has called for a manned mission to Mars, Mr. Mackenzie thinks big bureaucracies never might get the job done right.

“It’s better to have lots of groups out there, all trying things,” he says.

Indeed, space no longer is solely the province of earnest astronauts with crew cuts and government-issued uniforms.

Space tourism is on the verge of becoming big business.

Space Adventures Ltd. of Arlington, Va., has brokered $20 million trips for the wealthy on Russian rockets and is taking deposits for $100 million flybys of the far side of the moon.

But in comparison, 4Frontiers’ ultimate goal of an extended stay on Mars would be off-the-charts extreme.

It would take months to get there. Once there, you couldn’t kick off your shoes and dig your toes into the sand. Life would transpire in an enclosed space with pumped-in air. Venturing outside would require sealed suits.

To begin, 4Frontiers plans to gather patents and engineering ideas that would enable a small crew to land on Mars with home-building materials and the manufacturing capability to keep adding on.

It plans to construct a mock-up of its Mars home and begin selling tickets to it by 2007. Sites in Colorado, Florida and New Mexico are being considered.

The company’s business plan estimates that these varied projects would bring in $34 million in revenue in 2010 — including $7 million in gate receipts at the tourist site.

Profits before taxes, depreciation and amortization are forecast at $1.4 million as early as next year and $29.7 million in 2010.

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