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Offbeat New company wants Mars colony

Jung

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CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (AP) -- 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 far-fetched. 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 to raise 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" from people he won't name. 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?

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 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'd sure be glad civilization had been preserved by some colonists on Mars -- and perhaps elsewhere in the galaxy, if all goes well on the Red Planet. 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," 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 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 believes big bureaucracies might never get the job done right.

"It's better to have lots of groups out there, all trying things," Mackenzie says.

Indeed, space is no longer 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, Virginia, has brokered $20 million trips for the wealthy on Russian rockets and is taking deposits for $100 million fly-bys of the far side of the moon. For a lot less money, you can sign up for a quick blast into zero gravity.

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 (unless Martian settlers could pull off the even more speculative feat of "terraforming" the planet by changing its toxic atmosphere.) 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.

The hot topics would include ways to miniaturize key industrial processes -- like making plastic or steel -- and methods for exploiting Martian resources, such as the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, iron in the dirt or the water bound up in Martian ice.

As the company gains expertise, it expects to sell consulting services to aerospace companies or NASA. It envisions getting work designing Mars sets for movies and Mars rides for amusement parks.

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 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.

Even if that flies, then what? A $34 million company probably isn't in a great position to begin launching rockets.

Homnick says 4Frontiers would probably "stay incremental" through the early 2010s, perhaps getting involved in robotic surveys of Mars or asteroid mining.

However, projects like that -- and perhaps even settling Mars might require some clarity in space law.

The 1967 Outer Space Treaty declared that the "exploration and use" of outer space and celestial bodies "shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interest of all countries." While that's not exactly the traditional language of private enterprise, some space scholars say it leaves room for commercial projects.

(A 1979 Moon Treaty was more explicit, holding that bodies in the solar system should not become the property of any nation, organization or person. But most countries, including the United States, China and Russia, never ratified it.)

Considering all the possible complications, Mackenzie says 4Frontiers' real success might come simply from getting the public pumped about living on Mars. In turn, that could make Washington eager to fund a settlement.

Even if that doesn't happen, he is sure that people eventually will live on Mars -- and perhaps scores of other places in space.

"It's a question of when," he says. "I really hope we get started before we have an economic decline that delays it. I'd really hate to have something like the Great Depression, or the Dark Ages that lasted several hundred years, delay getting into space."


Source (CNN)
 

void

Banned - What an Asshat!
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count me out.. i'm pretty intrepid when it comes to hoofing around this mudball but i dread to imagine the sort of whiney ass scum that would be putting out the millions of dollars necessary to live on mars.. sounds like a cruise ship crowd..
let's let them go and we'll just stay and watch it on tv..
 
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they need to get bill gates to invest. maybe he can provide the computer systems to make this work. that would be a big boost in budget.
 
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latinmaxima said:
they need to get bill gates to invest. maybe he can provide the computer systems to make this work. that would be a big boost in budget.
IF the computers don't crash mid-flight.
 

Disadvantaged-c

omfgwtfbbqsteakmix
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lol yah they shouldnt use billgates, use linux :D. The problem with that is that billgates has the money and the open source community does not.
 

Jung

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latinmaxima said:
they need to get bill gates to invest. maybe he can provide the computer systems to make this work. that would be a big boost in budget.
I wouldn't want to live on a planet where life support systems depended on Windows. Those systems would call for embedded operating systems anyway, so Windows would be out of the question.

An embedded version of BSD would be a better idea though; it's more mature, stable and secure out the box.
 

voiceofreason

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It is a planet that can't sustain human life, why would we go there, to be trapped in a bubble like some kind of science experiment?

Count me out...
 

Jung

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voiceofreason said:
It is a planet that can't sustain human life, why would we go there, to be trapped in a bubble like some kind of science experiment?
I would assume colonization would begin in that way, but we have put a good bit of research into terraforming. I think it would be kind of a neat experience, but I doubt it would be open to the masses until something other than 'biodomes' were set in place.
 

Darklight

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eh.. just close of a section of the bubble and install a mess of cameras.. you got your next reality tv show... call it "Big Brother: Mars", or "Survivor: Red Planet" or something...
 

RetArt

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Great. now they want to waiste all their remaining mon.. no wait. they are in deficit.. But well
How does this "planting the huge US flag" help the humankind?
Why.the.fuck.
 

Captain 151

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er, RetardedArt, I think you missed the satire of that piece.
 

void

Banned - What an Asshat!
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RetArt said:
Great. now they want to waiste all their remaining mon.. no wait. they are in deficit.. But well
How does this "planting the huge US flag" help the humankind?
Why.the.fuck.
yeah, i'm real pissed that they get better scrabble than us.. ASStronauts!!
 

RetArt

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well. I did not miss the point. US is planning a moonflight. There are problems in the US society that need to be fixed, still the money is used to "enlarge their national penis".
In my post "planting the huge flag" is seen as a metaphor for doing something useless to boast ones ego. I put it quite weirdly, my bad.
 

void

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RetArt said:
well. I did not miss the point. US is planning a moonflight. There are problems in the US society that need to be fixed, still the money is used to "enlarge their national penis".
In my post "planting the huge flag" is seen as a metaphor for doing something useless to boast ones ego. I put it quite weirdly, my bad.
it's from this weeks onion, i mentioned that in the original post..
www.theonion.com
i guess you don't read it yet, but you should, it's pretty funny.
 

RetArt

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I know the onion is not a "source of true information". But USA ARE doing a moonflight wich in my views is a huge ego-boaster on other peoples money. The use is as as big putting up a huge flag on the moon. As in it is as useless as flaggin the moon.