The University of Central Florida is hosting a town hall meeting on Thursday, March 31, about NASA’s planetary missions in the next decade.

The public meeting is sponsored by the National Research Council, which just completed the Decadal Survey 2013-2022 for NASA and the National Science Foundation. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in room 102 of the Engineering II Building on UCF’s East Orlando campus.

The council conducts this survey every 10 years. The purpose is to gather consensus in the scientific community about what non-manned planetary missions the space agency should focus on in the next decade. The recommended missions are based on their scientific value and keep in mind conservative projected funding.

The council held several public meetings as it completed its work. This month, the group released its survey and recommendations and is holding Town Hall meetings across the country through April to share those recommendations with the public.

Highlights from the survey include:

— Continue the Discovery Program, which has included the Mars Pathfinder mission to explore the surface of the planet; the Messenger mission, which is visiting Mercury now; and Deep Impact, which was the first to probe beneath the surface of a comet.

— For its flagship missions, NASA should consider collecting samples from Mars, investigating the probable ocean on Jupiter’s Europa moon and learning more about Uranus or Neptune.

— Continue to fund programs that help with technology development necessary for planetary exploration.

— Continue the New Frontiers Program and add missions to collect samples from a comet and the moon’s south pole and to explore Saturn and Venus.

A copy of the survey and various presentations are available on NASA’s web site.

Stephen Mackwell, a member of the steering committee that oversaw the survey, will be at UCF to give a summary of the project, answer questions and get public feedback. Mackwell is the director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

For more information about the meeting, contact UCF Associate Professor Daniel Britt at

Less than an hour from Kennedy Space Center, UCF is home to a growing Planetary Sciences Group and a focus for planetary science in the southeastern United States. The seven faculty members are national experts on everything from planets outside of our solar system and comets to our solar system and the chemical composition of the universe. They have received multiple grants and have worked on several high-profile NASA space missions, including Deep Space I, Mars Pathfinder and Cassini.