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Page last updated at 09:03 GMT, Saturday, 16 April 2011 10:03 UK

In space, everyone hears you tweet as Nasa gets social

Doug Wheelock making a 'telephone' hand gesture
Despite being in outer space, astronaut Doug Wheelock kept in contact with earth by using Foursquare and other social networks

By Dave Lee

There is a current fad among the technologically literate for 'checking in' on location-based social networks such as Facebook and Foursquare.

Friends can see where you are and where you have been in the company of your mobile phone.

The practice has given rise to a whole new variety of geographical one-upmanship.

But while tagging yourself at the Ritz or the Empire State Building may impress some, few can match Doug Wheelock.

The American astronaut checked in while aboard the International Space Station in October last year.

His out-of-this-world update was part of Nasa's attempts to connect with fans and the general public by using social media.

It's part of our DNA that we need to be open, that we need to communicate
Stephanie Schierholz

In 2009, another astronaut, Mike Massimino, became the first person to tweet from outer space when he told his followers that he was "enjoying the magnificent views" en-route to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Paolo Nespoli, flight engineer on ISS Expedition, has been tweeting and posting pictures on social photography site Flickr .

Nasa currently administers over 100 Twitter accounts, 20 of which belong to astronauts sharing details of their day-to-day lives and experiences, much to the delight of their millions of followers.

"Thanks for an inside look at your prep for the mission," tweeted one. "Love the details of your training!"

Stephanie Schierholz, social media boss at Nasa, told Click on the BBC World Service that it was about opening up communication in ways never before possible.

"As a government agency, it's part of our DNA that we need to be open, that we need to communicate.

"Nasa, I think, has been really good about getting the word out, because we've been broadcasting our missions since the 1960s. Social media is another tool."

Opening doors

As well as communicating online, Nasa has been running "tweet-ups" for its online fans to get together in the real world.

"Essentially a tweet-up is an opportunity for our followers on Twitter to come to a Nasa location, or a Nasa-related location," Ms Schierholz explained.

"We bring them Nasa astronauts or managers or leaders, essentially to open the doors and say this is your space programme, this is what we're up to!"

US space shuttle Endeavour
Nasa-organised 'tweet-ups' at launches have really taken off

The events have proved extremely popular among space fanatics.

"The highest numbers are for our launch tweet-ups. We invite 150 people to each of those.

"The last time we got 2,700 registrations in 24 hours for those 150 spots," said Ms Schierholz.

Nasa also organises less formal meetings at other space or Nasa-related locations. Fans at these events can check in on Foursquare to earn a special "Nasa Explorer" badge.

And for the extremely enthusiastic fan, the position of mayor of the International Space Station is still technically up for grabs.

"Apparently the message never got to [Mr Wheelock] in space that he needed to check in a second time to be mayor," Ms Schierholz said.

"But I think he's become the honorary mayor.

"He's up for mayor of the year in the Shorty Awards for Foursquare."

A list of Nasa astronauts currently tweeting from space can be found here .

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