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 20 years or so.
Sure, it may sound farfetched. And the company's initial plans are a lot more terrestrial than ethereal, like developing a 25,000-square-foot replica of a Mars settlement here on Earth, then charging tourists admission.
But the people behind the venture are quite serious - as serious as the $25-million they want from investors.
CEO Mark Homnick, a former manager for Intel Corp. who has registered 4Frontiers in Florida, says he has already raised "a couple million."
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?
Homnick and his co-founders - a longtime Mars aficionado named Bruce Mackenzie and a 25-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology master's student, Joseph Palaia - are ready with several answers.
First, they contend, humankind needs a new frontier 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?
"It's the nature of life - life tries to expand and tries to adapt," Mackenzie said. "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 believes, 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."
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 like 4Frontiers also would be necessary, to drive things forward.
Although President Bush has called for a manned mission to Mars, Mackenzie said big bureaucracies might never get the job done right. "It's better to have lots of groups out there, all trying things," Mackenzie said.
Meanwhile, it plans to construct a mock-up of its Mars home and begin selling tickets to it by 2007. Potential sites in Colorado, Florida and New Mexico are being considered.
The company's business plan estimates its varied projects would bring in $34-million in revenue in 2010.