J.J. Abrams Heading To The Moon With Google Lunar X-Prize

Article Updated: 18 Mar , 2016

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As the director of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and “Star Trek Into Darkness”, J.J. Abrams is no stranger to space narratives. But now he’s leaving behind light saber battles and warp drive chase sequences to tackle something a little more realistic.

Abrams’ newest project is a 9 part documentary series, called “Moon Shot,” that showcases 16 different teams of people competing for Google’s Lunar X-Prize. The teams of entrepreneurs, scientists, and inventors will have to engineer a spacecraft, have it land a rover on the Moon, travel 500 meters, and then transmit HD video and images back to Earth. And they have to have their launch contract verified by the end of 2017. This is a daunting task.

Though the Moon might appear rather placid, and even safe compared to some of the hostile environments Earthlings and their spacecraft have ventured to, it’s not an easy place to do business in. We’re getting used to seeing rovers and landers and orbiters visit the Moon in what seems like a work-a-day process. But the Moon is still a hostile place.

The temperature on the Moon fluctuates wildly. At its coldest, the temperature drops to a frigid -246 C (-412 F.) At its hottest, the temperature jumps to a scorching  100 C (212F.) A 350 C swing in temperatures is hard on equipment and requires robust designing and engineering.

Temperature fluctuation aside, there is also the increased radiation to contend with. The Moon lacks the magnetosphere and atmosphere that protects Earth from the full onslaught of the Sun, so sensitive electronics have to contend with that. And then there’s the dust, which can also be hard on equipment. Remember, the Google Lunar X-Prize is a competition to land a privately-funded robot on the Moon.  Dealing with these formidable challenges as a small team is much harder, considering that the teams don’t have the resources that NASA and other groups have. But with $30 million in prize money at stake, we can expect to see some highly-motivated people competing.

Competitors include a German team backed by Audi (teams have to prove that they are 90% funded by private money,) a father and son working from a bedroom in Vancouver, a team of IT specialists from India, and a Japanese team from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Tohoku University.

Though the science aspect of the series will no doubt be fascinating—the Japanese team has revealed that they will use VR to control their innovative camera system—it’s the stories of the people trying to win the prize that should be even more gripping. Who are these people? What drives these people to do such a thing?

The series will be available for viewing on YouTube on March 17, 2016, and on Google Play on March 15, 2016. Can’t wait to check it out.

 

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