Houston, we've got check-ins: Gowalla and NASA team up

Popular mobile check-in game Gowalla announced a partnership today with government space agency NASA. While a mobile game and a space agency might not be the most likely of pairs, the two have joined forces to offer a country-wide scavenger hunt for virtual items, including moon rocks, NASA patches, spacesuits and space shuttles.

The four virtual items can be unlocked when a Gowalla user checks in to a specific NASA venue, including NASA visitor centers, agency-related locations, or one of the more than 400 museums, science centers, planetariums, observatories, parks, nature centers, zoos and aquariums that are part of NASA’s Museum Alliance, according to a NASA announcement.

Once unlocked, users have the option of swapping the virtual items, dropping them into locations or keeping them in their Gowalla vault according to the company’s blog. If a user is lucky enough to collect three of the four items, they will get a special pin to show off in their profiles. If you’re one of the first 100 to find 3 items, you’ll win a special edition map dubbed “Search for the Moon Rocks” designed by creative agency Jess3 (pictured below).

One of the virtual items, moon rocks, can only be found where actual moon rocks are on display. NASA notes that Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 missions all brought back samples, which can be found in various museums and planetariums around the world. The company specifically notes that some of these location are not open to the public. We’d highly recommend not breaking into a location just for a virtual moon rock. Not sure they trade well in jail.

As far as we can tell, the Gowalla and NASA partnership is the first time a location-based game has teamed up with a government agency to incentivize visitors. For Gowalla, the partnership brings a very recognizable name, just what the company may need to compete with check-in giant Foursquare, who has more than 4 million users and whose chief executive and founder Dennis Crowley was just named one of Fortune’s 40 under 40, a list of business’ hottest rising stars.

When I asked Crowley if Foursquare has any plans to target government agencies for partnerships, he gave me his usual default response saying, “Maybe we’ll do something like that someday :)” Stop smiling at me, Crowley!


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