NASA: Pence touching space hardware ‘absolutely okay'

Space agency says ‘we were going to clean it anyway'

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

Vice President Pence holds a heat shield tile in the Operations and Checkout building on July 6, 2017, on his right is Center director Bob Cabana and Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson, left.

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. - Vice President Mike Pence made his first visit to Kennedy Space Center Thursday, and the internet was not happy after photos showed him touching a piece of the Orion spacecraft under a “Do Not Touch” sign.

NASA responded Friday with a brief statement about the hands-on encounter, saying it was absolutely OK that Pence placed his hand on part of the titanium forward bay cover, the space agency said.

The vice president was named chairman of the newly reassembled National Space Council last week and kicked off his new role with a speech at Kennedy Space Center. Pence addressed hundreds of members of NASA's workforce Thursday from inside the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is being updated to host NASA's mega rocket, the Space Launch System.

Pence and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were getting a tour of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building Thursday afternoon, where the Orion spacecraft is being assembled by Lockheed Martin, when the incident happened.

Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana and Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson were showing Pence some tiles of the spacecraft’s heat shield when Pence laid a hand on part of the crew capsule that will eventually carry four astronauts beyond Earth.

The photo of Pence with his five digits below the “Do Not Touch” sign on the “Critical space flight hardware” quickly made its rounds among the space community on social media.

Pence also responded Friday with a Tweet, joking that Rubio dared him to do it.

It’s possible, Rubio pretended to pocket one of the heat shield tiles in his blazer while on the tour. [VIDEO BELOW]

“In fairness, I warned VP that ‘you break it, you own it,” Rubio tweeted in response.

Moon walker Buzz Aldrin was with the entourage on the tour of the facility. Aldrin and his fellow Apollo astronauts were processed in that very building before their trip to the moon.

NASA spokesperson Jen Rae Wang issued this statement about the encounter Friday:

“The signs are there as a day-to-day reminder, including the one visible on the titanium Forward Bay Cover for the Orion spacecraft. Procedures require the hardware to be cleaned before tiles are bonded to the spacecraft, so touching the surface is absolutely okay. Otherwise, the hardware would have been a protective cover over it like the thermal heat shield, which was nearby.”

Why would it matter of a piece of spacecraft got a little vice presidential DNA on it? For one, NASA is extremely careful when it comes to contamination. Earth germs don’t need to go with us when we leave, so as not to confuse scientific results as foreign DNA when it turns out we really brought it along for the trip.

“We were going to clean it anyway,” NASA tweeted in response to Pence.

That is very true. Either way, Pence will probably keep his hands in his pockets on his next visit.

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