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Firm sets sights on settling Mars

CAMBRIDGE -- 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.

Homnick's co-founders are a longtime Mars aficionado named Bruce Mackenzie and a 25-year-old Massachusetts Institute of Technology master's student, Joseph Palaia.

Mackenzie, a software developer, has devoted much energy to a nonprofit group, the Mars Foundation, which aims to advance knowledge about how to colonize the planet. But he decided a private venture is also needed.

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 capability to keep adding on.

The firm plans to construct a mock-up of its Mars home and begin selling tickets by 2007. Potential sites in Colorado, Florida, and New Mexico are being considered.

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