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"Moon Shot" scene
“Moon Shot” focuses on the rocketeers who are aiming for the moon. (Credit: GLXP)

Film director/producer J.J. Abrams has been in on two of the biggest space-movie franchises ever, “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” – so maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising that he’s also in on “Moon Shot,” an online documentary series that tracks the teams vying for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize.

Abrams is the executive producer for the Google-backed project announced today. That suggests he wasn’t involved in the day-to-day shooting. But the director of “Moon Shot,” Orlando von Einsiedel, has some top-drawer entries on his resume as well. “Virunga,” his 2014 documentary about conservationists in the battle-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, has won dozens of awards and was nominated for an Oscar.

The nine-part “Moon Shot” series tells the behind-the-scenes story of the 16 teams that are developing spacecraft for trips to the moon. The first team to get a lander to the surface, have it travel three-tenths of a mile (500 meters) and send video and images back to Earth will win as much as $20 million. Another $10 million has been set aside for the runner-up and for bonuses. But the deed has to be done by the end of 2017.

The rocketeers are the stars of the show. The trailer released today features such figures as Naveen Jain, the Seattle-based billionaire who’s backing Moon Express; Alex Dobrianski, the Vancouver-based software consultant whose Plan B team wants to send a Canadian hockey puck to the moon; and Red Whittaker, the roboticist and ex-Marine who leads the Astrobotic team.

“This getting to the moon is really getting good,” Whittaker says.

In the documentary series, he and the other competitors demonstrate that the effort is about much more than a mere engineering feat. “It’s not really just going to the moon. Going to the moon is symbolic. It is about showing what is possible,” Jain says.

“I’ve finally got an opportunity to prove myself,” says Deepana Gandhi, an Indian engineer on Team Indus.

“Moon Shot” will make its debut on Google Play on March 15, and on YouTube on March 17. In the meantime, you can watch “Back to the Moon for Good,” the Google Lunar X Prize’s 25-minute planetarium show.

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