A NASA astronaut at the International Space Station on Friday became the first person to "check in" from space using a mobile geolocation service.
At 11:03 a.m. ET, ISS commander Doug Wheelock unlocked the NASA Explorer badge (pictured at right) on the geolocation service Foursquare, thus officially launching a partnership between the agency and the social service to raise awareness about NASA's work over our heads.
The idea: if a 1960s-style space race can't be recreated, perhaps the revolution can start in a new generation's pockets.
The digital badge reads:
You are now 220 miles above Earth traveling at 17,500 mph and unlocked the NASA Explorer Badge! Show this badge and get a free scoop of astronaut ice cream.
Foursquare is a mobile service that allows smartphone owners to "check in" to venues -- restaurants, parks, clubs, you name it -- to earn points and badges, find nearby friends and get tips about those locations.
How on earth did an astronaut "check in" where cellular service does not reach, you ask? Via a special website for the occasion, I'm told.
"The astronauts do have live Internet in space, that's a new thing since January," said NASA spokeswoman Stephanie Schierholz. "Foursquare created a special ISS page for him to check in."
As with other Foursquare deals, NASA will have its own Foursquare landing page, which the agency will use to provide tips and information about the nation's space program pegged to specific locations throughout the United States.
For example, users who check in to NASA's Washington, D.C. headquarters will receive a message telling them that a replica of NASA astrophysicist John Mather's Nobel Prize is on display in the lobby.
And users who check into the agency's Stennis Space Center Visitor Center in Stennis, Miss. will learn the following:
Simulate a space shuttle main engine test, pilot a shuttle landing, and interact with a full size International Space Station module. Boy/Girl Scouts can even earn credit toward their merit badges!
"It fits in with our whole perspective of getting the word out about what NASA's doing as broadly as we can," Schierholz said. "We're looking at what avenues we can do that and help people discover NASA around them."
Schierholz said NASA included 15 tips for launch, but will add more soon.
"Wherever people are going, if NASA has a connection there, they discover that, so we can reach them wherever they are," she said. "And obviously, having an astronaut check in at the space station is a good way to say 'Hey, we're reaching out to where you are. Reach out to us as well.' "
Part of the Expedition 24 crew that launched in to space on June 15, Wheelock and astronaut have been conducting spacewalks to replace a faulty cooling pump module on the station's truss.
Along with Expedition 25 crew members, the team is working on 100 microgravity experiments related to the fields of biology and biotechnology, physical and materials sciences, technology development, and Earth and space sciences.
Wheelock is scheduled to return to Earth at the end of November, whereupon the NASA Explorer badge will be available for all Foursquare users to earn.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com