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Mike Pence "Do Not Touch" picture
Even Vice President Mike Pence couldn’t resist tweeting a Photoshopped version of the “Do Not Touch” photo snapped during his visit to Kennedy Space Center. (@VP Mike Pence via Twitter)

You know that viral photo of Vice President Mike Pence putting his hand on a piece of space hardware marked with a “Do Not Touch” sign? Don’t worry about it, NASA says.

The picture, snapped by news photographers on Thursday during Pence’s tour of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, spread like Photoshopped wildfire around the internet. It’s easy to see why: Pence looks like someone blatantly caught with his hand in the figurative cookie jar:

Twittering wags went to work on the subject, as chronicled on Time’s website:

 

 

It’s afraid!

Even Pence got into the act:

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., played along:

This afternoon, NASA finally absolved Pence of blame.

“The signs are there as a day-to-day reminder, including the one visible on the titanium Forward Bay Cover for the Orion spacecraft,” Jen Rae Wang, NASA’s associate administrator for communications, said in a statement. “Procedures require the hardware to be cleaned before tiles are bonded to the spacecraft, so touching the surface is absolutely OK. Otherwise, the hardware would have had a protective cover over it like the thermal heat shield, which was nearby.”

NASA underscored the OK-ness of it all in a tweet: “We were going to clean it anyway. It was an honor to host you!”

To which Pence had a two-word Twitter response: “Thanks, NASA!”

It’s probably for the best that NASA went easy on Pence – considering that he’s now heading the National Space Council, which will be determining NASA’s future course.

For what it’s worth, the forward bay cover is designed to fit over the top portion of the Orion deep-space crew capsule during most of its flight. It’s supposed to spring off the spacecraft during descent to enable parachute deployment.

The cover, along with the rest of the capsule, is being prepared for a ride beyond the moon and back atop NASA’s Space Launch System during the uncrewed EM-1 test flight, which is due to launch in 2019 or 2020. So there should be plenty of time for NASA to wipe off Pence’s palm print.

Here’s a video showing the forward bay cover undergoing jettison tests:

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