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Why's Foursquare NASA's Latest Frontier?

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, October 22 2010

International Space Station Commander and NASA astronaut Doug Wheelock opened up a new frontier for NASA when, earlier today, he checked in on the location-based game-slash-social-platform Foursquare -- from space!

Wheelock's check-in from a few hundred miles above the earth while aboard the ISS unlocked the "NASA Explorer" badge on Foursquare. Foursquare awards badges for various behaviors, from the "Pizzaiolo" badge or checking in repeatedly to pizza places to a "Panel Nerd" badge for checking in at SXSW. But where Wheelock's check-in goes beyond gimmick to adding something meaningful to NASA's public-relations strategy is that, according to the Foursquare blog, "in the near future, explorers on earth who visit space-related places can also unlock the badge while learning about NASA history and the space program." Using location-based apps opens up one more channel for the public to engage in the field of space exploration and NASA's work in particular; NASA already maintains a custom page on the Foursquare site, and their Buzzroom page aggregates social media conversations about space exploration.

Now, we earth-bound mortals check into Foursquare locations using our cellphones or other mobile devices. So how'd Wheelock do it? Does his cell phone get reception in space? A workaround was necessary. Foursquare, reports Leslie Bradshaw, president of JESS3, the creative firm that worked with both Foursquare and NASA to pull today's space-based check-in off, built a special page just for Wheelock so that he could check in using his computer. But don't expect a repeat performance. "It is a challenge to get a good connection" in space, says Bradshaw.

Video of the actual moment Wheelock unlocked the NASA Explorer badge is said to be on its way.

Update: Here's the video of the moment that Wheelock checked in from 220 miles above Earth. Using what seems to be Wheelock's astro-handle, ground control at NASA confirms that the deed was done. "Wheels," says the controller, "we read your check-in, loud and clear."