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NASA Says Pence Was OK to Touch Hardware Despite Sign

Image: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is shown a piece of hardware by Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana during a tour of the Operations and Checkout Building in Florida
Vice President Mike Pence touches a piece of hardware as Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana, back to camera, directs a tour of the Operations and Checkout Building on July 6. Mike Brown / Reuters

A photo of Vice President Mike Pence touching NASA hardware clearly marked “Do Not Touch” took flight on social media Friday, inspiring scores of gags and memes.

NASA said the “Do Not Touch” signs in the vicinity at the Kennedy Space Flight Center “are there as a day-to-day reminder,” but the “Critical Space Flight Hardware” in question was “absolutely okay” to touch.

“Procedures require the hardware to be cleaned before tiles are bonded to the spacecraft, so touching the surface is absolutely okay,” said NASA spokeswoman Jen Rae Wang. “Otherwise, the hardware would have had a protective cover over it like the thermal heat shield, which was nearby.”

The vice president, for his part, gamely played along, joking on Twitter that Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, “dared” him to do it.

Rubio replied: "In fairness, I warned @VP that 'you break it, you own it.'"

Pence spoke to NASA employees Thursday before touring the facility.

The viral photo circulated widely on social media Friday, kicking off several jokes at the vice president’s expense. At least a few users compared the image to the now-infamous photo of President Donald Trump putting his hands on a glowing orb in Saudi Arabia.