Mars may be the first planet in the solar system to have a robot for mayor. (Something that was already predicted by Reddit.) NASA's Curiosity rover just checked-in on Foursquare on Mars and, unless Opportunity gets its act in gear, could continue to check-in unopposed and win the coveted spot of mayor.
Foursquare bills itself as a social mapping app. You "check in," broadcasting where you are and what you're doing. The idea is that friends nearby can know where you are and join you, though to me broadcasting your location seems like an invitation to be robbed. Why would I tell people I'm out looking for friends alone in a dark bar? But Curiosity doesn't have to worry about personal safety on Mars. It can check in on Foursquare worry free, just to brag to the rest of us on Earth that it's roving around on Mars.
Curiosity's is the first check-in in history on another planet though not the first off-world check-in; astronaut Doug Wheelock, commander of Expedition 25, checked-in from the International Space Station in 2011. As for Curiosity, users on Foursquare can follow its progress as it makes its way across the surface to Glenelg and then on to Mount Sharp.
This is part of NASA's growing use of social media to engage the public in missions. Building on its partnership with Foursquare, there can unlock certain NASA accomplishments. There are Curiosity-themed badges to be gained by checking in at certain science, technology, engineering, or mathematics-themed locations. Available later this year, this badge will hopefully encourage Foursquare users to explore science centers, laboratories, and museums as well as NASA sites around the country. The space agency also runs a Foursquare page with official tips and information about the nation's space program.
But NASA's use of Foursquare goes beyond following Curiosity or visiting NASA sites; it's another way for people to connect with space exploration and learn not just about the universe but the things our planet has to offer as well. It may seem like a round about way to get people interested in space — personally a one-ton, laser-endowed, nuclear powered chemistry lab roving Mars is interesting in itself — but it's a clever way to turn love of social media into a discreet teaching tool.