A University of Prince Edward Island researcher headed to Utah this week to take part in research that will explore how to determine if the water on Mars is safe for astronauts to drink.

Cheryl Wartman's research is part of a larger exploration of all aspects of a mission to Mars, taking place at the Mars Desert Research Station in Hanksville, Utah.


Cheryl Wartman is one of eight Canadians on this mission. ((CBC))

Scientists discovered evidence in 2006 that showed that liquid water moved through the Red Planet in the last 10 years. Water is also known to exist as ice on the planet's north pole.

Wartman's research is focused on the safety of drinking water.

But her work in Utah will examine, in particular, whether a way could be found for astronauts to use Martian water instead of transporting it from Earth, because water is heavy to carry.

It could make a Mars mission considerably easier.

"Water quality is going to be very important in any Mars mission," said Wartman.

"There's been some discussion of using the water in Mars, to save on having to transport as much."

The Mars Desert Research Station in Utah is set up to simulate conditions on Mars, so scientists can conduct experiments under some of the same limitations.

"Any time you leave the quarters, you're in full suits, like the space suits," said Wartman.

"Anything you have to do outside, you have learn how to do it with the suits, and with the gloves. Dexterity somewhat decreased."


Part of the project is about learning how to work together in cramped quarters for long periods of time. ((CBC))

Wartman is one of eight Canadians on this mission, and her work at the station will be about more than investigating ways of testing water quality. The mission is part of series that explores all aspects of what a Mars mission might be like.

"[We're studying] working out all bugs in system, figuring out what types of crew dynamics you need, for people living who are living in very close quarters for longer periods of time," she said.

The Utah station is one of four in the world, set up in hostile environments to best simulate Mars. The others are in the Arctic, Australia and Iceland.

The long-term goal of the Mars stations is to prepare for a time when permanent bases might be established on Mars. For that to happen, a supply of clean water will be necessary. Wartman says she is excited to be involved in these very early steps towards helping make that happen.