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FEATURED STORIES 24 February 2020

Information For The Media

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'Astro' Dave Reneke

David Reneke is one of Australia's most well known and respected astronomers and lecturers with links to some of the world's leading astronomical institutions. 

It's Official: Astronomers Have Discovered another Earth

NASA's Kepler Space Telescope discovered an Earth-like planet circling a nearby star within the Goldilocks zone of our galaxy. Kepler-186f is around 500 light-years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation. The habitable zone, also identified as the Goldilocks zone, is the area around a star within which planetary-mass objects with enough atmospheric pressure can sustain liquid water at their surfaces.

While it has been projected that there are at least 40 billion Earth-sized planets circling in our Milky Way Galaxy, this specific finding is labelled the first Earth-sized planet to be discovered in the habitable zone of another star.

"We know of only one planet where life survives - Earth. When we hunt for life outside our solar system, we emphasis on discovering planets with features that mimic that of Earth," said Elisa Quintana, research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and lead author of the paper published in the journal Science."Discovering a habitable zone planet similar to Earth in size is a major breakthrough."

The neighboring star to Kepler-186f has half the mass and size as our solar system's Sun and only gets one-third of the energy that we get from our Sun. Kepler-186f circles its star once every 130 days.

Daredevil 'Mad' Mike Hughes dies tragically launching his home-made rocket 

Daredevil "Mad Mike" Hughes died Saturday (Feb. 22) during his latest attempt to launch into the sky on a homemade rocket powered by steam.

Hughes, 64, was attempting to launch 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) into the air from a location near Barstow, California, in a rocket he built with partner Waldo Stakes. The Science Channel, which was filming the launch attempt as part of the future documentary series "Homemade Astronauts," confirmed Hughes' death to

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family during this difficult time," Science Channel representatives said in a statement. "It was always his dream to do this launch, and Science was there to chronicle his journey."

According to CNN, the San Bernadino County Sheriff's office responded to the fatal rocket crash off Highway 247 in Barstow. NBC News reported that the launch lifted off from private property in the Barstow area.

The Sheriff's Office did not identify Hughes in a statement, saying only that authorities had pronounced a man dead at the scene of the rocket crash, CNN added. The Science Channel later confirmed Hughes' death.

Daredevil driver Mad Mike Hughes with  his steam-powered rocket constructed out of salvage parts on a five-acre property  in Apple Valley, California.
Daredevil driver Mad Mike Hughes with his steam-powered rocket constructed out of salvage parts on a five-acre property in Apple Valley, California.

Hughes has repeatedly tried to launch homemade rockets and actually did launch an earlier rocket in 2018. During that flight, which reached a maximum height of 1,875 feet (572 m), Hughes suffered compressed vertebrae but still aimed to launch ever higher.

Attempts to launch this current steam rocket in August 2019 were prevented by a faulty water heater.

In the past, Hughes said he believed the Earth was flat, with some publications stating his launches were aimed at seeing the Earth's curvature for himself. In August 2019, however, Hughes told that his flat-Earth belief was not his launch motivator. He was simply a daredevil, pushing the envelope of homemade rockets, Hughes said.

Hughes and Stakes made up one of three different teams working to build and launch their own rockets while being filmed for the Science Channel's "Homemade Astronauts" series. The teams were shooting to get as close as possible to the Karman line, a boundary about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth. 

Australian Space Agency gets New SA Office. 

Thankfully a politician was willing to cut the ribbon so they could finally all get to work on our space future.
Thankfully a politician was willing to cut the ribbon so they could finally all get to work on our space future.

The Australian Space Agency has been in operation for a while now, but they finally have an address at "Lot Fourteen" in Adelaide, a trendy tech hub in a heritage listed building on the site of the old Royal Hospital that closed recently. 

Although you could probably show up unannounced, you should probably continue to send your crazy space theories to their Post Office Box address in Canberra. 

With any luck, they'll end up in the national archives as a permanent record of your crazy ideas for future generations to enjoy.

Australian Space Agency, GPO Box 2013, CANBERRA ACT 260

Betelgeuse Update ... Spoiler Alert - It's still there.

Is Betelgeuse Ok?

As you may have heard, Betelgeuse, the red giant which we know is towards the end of it's stellar evolution and ready to go supernova, recently had an unprecedented dimming event. It's normal periodic variation suddenly dropped off a cliff in a way we'd never seen before. 

ESO trained it's Very Large Telescope to the star to see what was going on and came back with the image you see above. You may notice that in both photos Betelgeuse doesn't look like a symmetrical circle like our Sun, but often lopsided which is normal for this weird star. 

The question with this image however is whether Betelgeuse is really having a bad-fusion day and about to pop, OR has it wandered into the path of some sort of dust obscuring our vision of the star.  

We should receive some kind of early warning in the form of neutrinos or even a gravitational wave signal preceding any explosion so for now it looks like the dimming event is over and the trend in brightness is .. well.. looking bright again. Soon, Betelgeuse, soon.

FEATURED STORIES 16 February 2020

NASA Brings VOYAGER 2 Fully back online, 11.5 Billion miles from Earth

"Mission operators report that voyager 2 continues to be stable and that communications between the Earth and the spacecraft are good."
"Mission operators report that voyager 2 continues to be stable and that communications between the Earth and the spacecraft are good."

An incredible achievement of remote engineering, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has fixed its most adventurous probe in human history. Voyager 2, is 11.5 billion miles away from Earth, is working and now back online continuing its mission to gather scientific data on the solar system and the interstellar space beyond. At 10:00 p.m., Eastern, on Wednesday, NASA's voyager twitter account announced the good news that no only voyager 2 is secure, but is back at its vital science mission.

"My twin is back to taking science data, and the team @NASAJPL is evaluating the health of the instruments after their brief shutoff," the account twitted. Voyager 2 is sister craft to Voyager 1. Both crafts have been travelling through the solar system and now are beyond the solar system touching the interstellar space - for their four last decades. Together, they have improved our understanding of stellar neighborhood and both are already uncovering outstanding information about the interstellar space beyond Sun's sphere of affect.

In a statement, the space agency reasserted that the voyager 2 is back in business. Good vibes! Voyager 2 continues to be stable, and communications between Earth and the spacecraft are fine. My twin is back to taking science data, and the team at @NASAJPL is evaluating the health of the instruments following their brief shutoff. - NASA Voyager February 6, 2020. "Mission operators report that voyager 2 continues to be stable and that communications between the Earth and the spacecraft are good."

"The spacecraft has resumed taking space data, and now the science teams are evaluating the health of the instruments," NASA said. What happened to Voyager 2? On January 28, NASA shut down the spacecraft because it unexpectedly had run into trouble - for unspecific reasons - the world was shocked. Here's the skinny: My twin went to do a roll to calibrate the onboard magnetometer, overdrew power and tripped software designed to automatically protect the spacecraft.

Inverse said at the time, Voyager 2 went dark right before it was planned for a test in which the space craft rotates 360 degrees in order to adjust one of its instrument on-board. But the spacecraft didn't not respond. As a result, two of its very important systems which consume a lot of power, were running at the same time, NASA said. The most probable problem, the spacecraft was consuming up too much of its power supply, which activated protection software. The software on its own turns off Voyager 2's science equipment where there is an overload of power. It does not has an infinite power supply.

The space agency has not confirmed or denied whether that is what really happened. Only time will tell what went wrong. But voyager 2's mission is not over that is for sure. If nothing goes wrong it will have five more years to explore, meaning five years of crucial scientific information from an area of space mankind has no other way to explore.

A telescope with a car-sized camera is going to change astronomy

A telescope with a car-sized camera is going to change astronomy
A telescope with a car-sized camera is going to change astronomy

You may think we know exactly what's in our solar system-considering we've identified celestial bodies billions of lightyears away from our solar system and have even sent space probes outside of it-but you'd be wrong. We've identified over 800,000 objects in our solar system, but a massive telescope that is nearing completion could help us identify millions more. The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which is being built in Chile and also known as the Rubin Observatory, is supposed to be completed within a few years.

The LSST is a new kind of telescope being built to rapidly survey the night-time sky. Compact and nimble, the LSST will move quickly between images, yet its large mirror and large field of view-almost 10 square degrees of sky, or 40 times the size of the full moon-work together to deliver more light from faint astronomical objects than any optical telescope in the world.

From its mountaintop site in the foothills of the Andes, the LSST will take more than 800 panoramic images each night with its 3.2 billion-pixel camera, recording the entire visible sky twice each week. Each patch of sky it images will be visited 1000 times during the survey. With a light-gathering power equal to a 6.7-m diameter primary mirror, each of its 30-second observations will be able to detect objects 10 million times fainter than visible with the human eye. A powerful data system will compare new with previous images to detect changes in brightness and position of objects as big as far-distant galaxy clusters and as small as near-by asteroids.

The LSST's combination of telescope, mirror, camera, data processing, and survey will capture changes in billions of faint objects and the data it provides will be used to create an animated, three-dimensional cosmic map with unprecedented depth and detail , giving us an entirely new way to look at the Universe. This map will serve a myriad of purposes, from locating that mysterious substance called dark matter and characterizing the properties of the even more mysterious dark energy, to tracking transient objects, to studying our own Milky Way Galaxy in depth. It will even be used to detect and track potentially hazardous asteroids-asteroids that might impact the Earth and cause significant damage.

As with past technological advances that opened new windows of discovery, such a powerful system for exploring the faint and transient Universe will undoubtedly serve up surprises.

Plans for sharing the data from LSST with the public are as ambitious as the telescope itself. Anyone with a computer will be able to view the moving map of the Universe created by the LSST, including objects a hundred million times fainter than can be observed with the unaided eye. The LSST project will provide analysis tools to enable both students and the public to participate in the process of scientific discovery. We invite you to learn more about LSST science.

The LSST will be unique: no existing telescope or proposed camera could be retrofitted or re-designed to cover ten square degrees of sky with a collecting area of forty square meters. Named the highest priority for ground-based astronomy in the 2010 Decadal Survey, the LSST project formally began construction in July 2014.

The United Kingdom Is Releasing Nearly 60 Years of UFO Reports Online

What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What is the truth?
What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What is the truth?

No one country has a monopoly on UFO reports. Sometime between the Roswell incident of 1947 and Canada's Falcon Lake sighting in 1967, the United Kingdom's government started collecting official "X-files" of its own. Now, Live Science reports, the country's Ministry of Defence will share those formerly classified documents with the public for the first time.

UFO-mania had invaded the UK by the early 1950s. The British media began covering supposed extraterrestrial phenomenon with a more serious tone, and books with titles like The Riddle of the Flying Saucers and The Flying Saucers are Real were excerpted in major newspapers. Even Winston Churchill was intrigued, writing to his air minister in 1952, "What does all this stuff about flying saucers amount to? What can it mean? What is the truth?"

The Ministry of Defence formed the "Flying Saucer Working Party" to process the flood of new reports coming in around this time. Though the original group concluded that none of the sightings were credible, various departments of the Ministry continued investigating reports of strange objects seen in the sky through 2009, when a policy change ended the program officially.

All the files from that near-60-year period will be released on their own webpage some time in 2020. The announcement was made after a British news agency made a request for the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. Select files from this period had previously been made available through the U.K. National Archives website. Now, instead of choosing certain items to share, the UK government has decided to publish all the documents at once.

Reports that have already been made public include sightings of "a diamond-shaped red light," "15 fireballs in the sky," and "three blazing gold orbs." 

The Ministry of Defence stated it "has no opinion on the existence or otherwise of extra terrestrial life," but the public will be able to decide for themselves when more documents are shared later this year.

This is the Best Ever Direct Image of An Exoplanet Orbiting Its Parent Star

 Given its brightness, there’s a good chance it’s a Jupiter-like planet. Image: ESO/Schmidt et al.
Given its brightness, there’s a good chance it’s a Jupiter-like planet. Image: ESO/Schmidt et al.

This inner planet requires just 11 hours to make a complete orbit and is located a mere 0.008 au (744,000 miles) from its T-Tauri star (a young, bright star that hasn't quite entered into its main sequence).

Astronomers have now detected a second planet (the one shown in the photo), and they did so using direct imaging. To do it, they combined data from the ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, and the Calar Alto Observatory facilities in Spain.

Unlike its companion, this second planet, dubbed CVSO 30c, is exceptionally far from its star. In fact, it's so far that astronomers aren't entirely sure if it even belongs to this planetary system. It's at a distance of 660 au, requiring a mind-boggling 27,000 years to complete a single orbit. For comparison, Neptune is located 30 au from our Sun. The astronomers speculate that the two planets may have interacted at some point in the past, shooting one away while the other settled in its tight orbit.

Given its brightness, there's a good chance it's a Jupiter-like planet. Rocky planets tend to be darker and not very reflective.

If scientists are able to confirm that CVSO 30c orbits this star, it'll be the first star system to host two planets that were detected by two different techniques, the transit method and direct imaging. [ESO]

Orbital debris startup Astroscale chosen by JAXA for its first space junk removal mission

Astroscale, which was founded in 2013, is focused entirely on cleaning up orbital space
Astroscale, which was founded in 2013, is focused entirely on cleaning up orbital space

Japanese orbital debris removal technology startup Astroscale is going to be working with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on the agency's first mission to remove some of the junk that currently exists on orbit. They've been selected by the agency to participate in its Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration project (CRD2), which includes two separate mission phases that together will aim to accomplish the removal of a large body currently on orbit, the spent upper stage of a Japanese rocket.

Astroscale, which was founded in 2013, is focused entirely on cleaning up orbital space, which it sees as a necessary step for long-term sustainable activity on orbit. Space debris has become a hot-button topic in the space industry, with current projections anticipating massive increases in the number of active satellites orbiting the planet, thanks to the uptick in satellite constellation projects in the works from commercial operators including SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb.

The JAXA mission aims to complete its first phase by the end of 2022, and Astroscale will support that phase by building, launching and operating a satellite that will observe and acquire data on the rocket upper stage that the second phase will seek to de-orbit. The goal is to find out more about its movement and the surrounding debris environment in order to set up a safe and successful removal.

"The data obtained in Phase I of CRD2 is expected to reinforce the dangers of existing debris and the necessity to remove them," said Astroscale founder and CEO Nobu Okada in a press release. "Debris removal is still a new market and our mission has always been to establish routine debris removal services in space in order to secure orbital sustainability for the benefit of future generations. The international community is growing more aware of the risks of space debris and we are committed more than ever to turning this potential market into a reality."

Astroscale is also already involved in other orbital debris-removal projects, and plans to launch a demonstration mission of its "End-of-Life Services" offering sometime in the second half of this year. This mission will be a world-first demo of commercial orbital debris removal if all goes to plan, a key step in proving that its technology can meet the needs of this growing opportunity.

Earlier this year, a near-miss of two defunct orbital spacecraft made headlines, and observers noted that had a collision occurred, it would've resulted in a new debris cloud with "at least hundreds" of new pieces of trackable debris. Astroscale and others like it could, combined with other initiatives like more granular tracking and information sharing among satellite operators, provide a much more sustainable in-space operating environment for the range of commercial activities either planned or in progress for orbital space.

The 'Impossible' Quantum Space Engine That Breaks Laws Of Physics

A couple of years ago, researchers at NASA's Johnson Space Center proposed a thruster system which actually generates thrust, despite requiring absolutely no propellant. The implications of this discovery are far-reaching; applications for space flight and other technologies which require propulsion could one day become far cheaper, allowing space exploration to expand exponentially.

The existence of this technology also further validates the fact that energy can be derived from tapping into the quantum vacuum, also known as "zero-point.".

Bottom line is that space is not empty, and the energy which lies within it can be used. This was experimentally confirmed when the Casimir Effect illustrated zero point or vacuum state energy, which predicts that two metal plates close together attract each other due to an imbalance in the quantum fluctuations(source)(source).

The propellant-less thruster is called the Cannae Drive, invented by Guido Fetta, and was tested by NASA over an eight day testing campaign that took place in August of 2013. It's also known as the EM drive. It showed that a small amount of thrust was achieved inside a container, again, without the use of any fuel. The results were then presented at the 50th Joint Propulsion Conference in Cleveland, Ohio in July the next year.

Now, it's about to be launched into spacee, and, according to many, like, the EM "is as controversial as it gets, because while certain experiments have suggested that such an engine could work, it also goes against one of the most fundamental laws of physics we have.

It's a law that Issac Newton derived, called the law of conservation of momentum, which states that an equal and opposite reaction must stem from an action. In order for something to gain momentum it must expel some kind of propellent in the opposite direction, but not the EM drive, this invention taps into the 'zero-point' field of energy/electromagnetic waves, creating thrust by microwave photons bouncing around inside a cone shaped metal cavity. The cone shaped mental cavity is what accelerates it into the opposite direction.

This is exciting, because it basically proves that we have a limitless resource of energy to tap into and utilize for space travel. This is currently the biggest barrier for modern day space travel and exploration.

Science needs to be careful and stray far from getting caught up in the grip of scientific dogma. History has constantly shown us, especially within the realms of science, that what we accept as real always changes at another point in time. Our understanding and knowledge regarding the nature of our reality is constantly changing.

"There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement." This statement (worldview statement) was made by Lord Kelvin in 1900, which was shattered five years later when Einstein published his paper on special relativity. This one great, out of many.

Today, engineers are inventing power generators that utilize these concepts, like Paramahamsa Tewari. These laws need to be refined to account for the fact that space is not empty, what we currently accept as fact is going to have to change, and developments like the EM drive, or electrical generators that used these concepts, are going to have to be acknowledged soon. Throughout history, new developments in fields such as energy have always taken their time to find it into the market place.

In today's world, there's always a lot of Red Tape you're going to have to go through, unfortunately.

NASA's $1 Billion Spacecraft Beams Back The Sharpest Images Of Jupiter-EVER

Juno flew by Jupiter skimming 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) above Jupiter's cloud tops while traveling about 129,000 mph (208,000 km/h) relative to the planet, NASA officials said. Hold my coffee, I can't stop staring at the images. Is that even real?

NASA's Juno spacecraft is the first solar-powered space probe sent out to study our solar system's largest planet-Jupiter. Juno's mission is to orbit the gas giant in polar orbit and study its structure while mapping its gravity and magnetic field. Studying Jupiter will allow experts to better understand large planets discovered across the cosmos.

So far-the US$1 billion spacecraft has managed to take an image of Jupiter's poles for the first time, it has come across really bizarre cloud formations, heard and recorded mysterious auroras, and scanned deep into the planet's thick cloud tops, doing what no other spacecraft has done before. We're proud of you Juno.

And while science is the most important thing on the mission, NASA's spacecraft are known for being really good photographers.

Just as the Cassini spacecraft recently beamed back unprecedented images of Saturn, Juno also has its fair share of breathtaking images-is it time we should award a Pulitzer Prize for Photography to one of those spacecraft?

Juno is the ninth probe from Earth sent to Jupiter, and only the second probe to orbit the planet, but it is the first probe to snap unprecedently beautiful images of the gas giant.

Astronomers will probe exoplanets with Webb telescope

This artist's concept portrays the seven rocky exoplanets within the TRAPPIST-1 system, located about 39 light-years from Earth.
This artist's concept portrays the seven rocky exoplanets within the TRAPPIST-1 system, located about 39 light-years from Earth.

This month marks the third anniversary of the discovery of a remarkable system of seven planets known as TRAPPIST-1. These rocky, Earth-size worlds orbit an ultra-cool star 39 light-years from Earth; 1 light-year is approximately 5.88 trillion miles.

Three of the planets are in the "habitable zone," meaning they are at the right orbital distance to be warm enough for liquid water to exist on their surfaces. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will observe those worlds after its launch in 2021, with the goal of making the first detailed, near-infrared study of the atmosphere of a habitable-zone planet.

Numerous Cornell astronomy faculty will contribute to the mission. Nikole Lewis, assistant professor of astronomy and the deputy director of the Carl Sagan Institute, is the principal investigator for one of the teams investigating the TRAPPIST-1 system.

"It's a coordinated effort because no one team could do everything we wanted to do with the TRAPPIST-1 system," Lewis said. "The level of cooperation has been really spectacular."

Lewis' team will observe one of the planets, TRAPPIST-1e, in an effort to not only detect an atmosphere, but also to determine its basic composition. They expect to be able to distinguish between an atmosphere dominated by water vapor and one composed mainly of nitrogen (like Earth) or carbon dioxide (like Mars and Venus).

TRAPPIST-1e is one of the known exoplanets having the most in common with Earth; its density and the amount of radiation that it receives from its star make it a great candidate for habitability. Lewis will also lead 130 hours of guaranteed time observations focused on the detailed study of exoplanet atmospheres with Webb.

"We look forward to 'remote sensing' a remarkable diversity of exoplanet atmospheres, ranging from temperate terrestrial worlds in the TRAPPIST-1 system to blazing gas giants orbiting very close to their stars," Jayawardhana said. "The Webb telescope will give us unprecedented views, especially of the smaller planets that are tougher to probe."

Added Kaltenegger: "The combination of the data from the three TRAPPIST planets will give us unprecedented insight into how rocky planets evolve at different distances from their host star. It is the best laboratory that we could have asked for, to get insights into how extrasolar rocky planets work."

Jonathan Lunine, David C. Duncan Professor in the Physical Sciences and chair of astronomy, is the interdisciplinary scientist for astrobiology on the Webb mission and serves on the Science Working Group, which defines the mission's science requirements and provides scientific oversight of the project. His hours on the telescope will be mostly used to look at "hot Jupiters" - gas giant planets that are very close to their stars - and Kuiper Belt objects.

James Lloyd, professor of astronomy, developed the Aperture Masking Interferometry mode of the telescope's Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) instrument, which will be used to image planetary systems and their environments.

The Webb telescope will be the world's premier space science observatory, able to solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the enigmatic structures and origins of our universe. Webb is an international program led by NASA, with partners the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

NASA has a plan for yearly Artemis moon flights through 2030. The first one could fly in 2021.

The first flight of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket and Orion crew capsule - and the first big step in putting astronauts back on the moon - was originally scheduled to launch this year, but the mission is now expected to slip to 2021.

A new document from NASA explaining President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2021 budget request for the agency lists the uncrewed test flight, known as Artemis 1, as scheduled to launch in 2021. Although NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and other agency officials have said they expect the mission to be delayed, an updated launch target has not yet been officially announced. 

The U.S. Army plans to transfer 100 soldiers into the U.S. Space Force beginning in 2021

The soldiers will already have space-related training and jobs - military occupational specialties, in Army parlance - Maj. Gen. Paul Chamberlain, deputy assistant Army secretary for budget, told reporters on Tuesday.

It's the first time any service outside of the Air Force has identified members that will transfer into the Space Force, the new branch of the military within the Air Force created in December. The Navy has yet to say how many of its sailors it plans to transfer. The Air Force plans to shift some 6,000 airmen into the Space Force by year's end and more in the years that follow. 

The U.S. Army plans to transfer 100 soldiers into the U.S. Space Force beginning in 2021, according to service officials and budget documents.

It's the first time any service outside of the Air Force has identified members that will transfer into the Space Force, the new branch of the military within the Air Force created in December. The Navy has yet to say how many of its sailors it plans to transfer. The Air Force plans to shift some 6,000 airmen into the Space Force by year's end and more in the years that follow. 

'Apollo 13' launching back into theaters for NASA moonshot's 50th anniversary

If you missed your chance to see "Apollo 13" in theaters when it was first released in 1995, do we have a special treat for you. The blockbuster Hollywood film, based on a real-life emergency in space during the Apollo moon-landing era, is returning to select theaters in April for the mission's 50th anniversary, learned exclusively.

Tickets will be available starting today (Feb. 12) for screenings at more than 600 movie theaters across the U.S. The special showings will take place on April 5, 6 and 8, cinema distributor Fathom Events said. "Apollo 13 may have been deemed a 'successful failure,' but the movie is a brilliant reminder that it was anything but," Tom Lucas, Fathom Events vice president of studio relations, said in a statement.