Sci-Tech

Mike Pence ignores NASA's 'Do not touch' sign, Twitter can't cope

Commentary: The vice president appears to override instructions. But NASA clarifies that it was actually OK for him to touch the spacecraft hardware.

 Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


One small touch for a man.

Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

US Vice President Mike Pence visited NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Thursday and declared that "our nation will return to the moon, and we will put American boots on the face of Mars."

A boots-on-the-ground strategy is always popular. When we're talking about outer space, at least. 

You might have thought, therefore, that Pence would have garnered hurrahs across social media. 

Instead, it was a Reuters image of him touching a piece of valuable equipment that moved the Twitterati.

The problem was that the equipment was labeled: "Do not touch." Or, in full: "Critical Space Flight Hardware. 'DO NOT TOUCH.'"

Yes, the critical words were in inverted commas. On the other hand, they were in capital letters, so must have been important.

And so the tweets flowed. Some were polite. 

Some were decidedly more cutting, even offering reasons for the vice president's personal proclivities.

And then there were those who just couldn't cope with it all. 

There were even those who powers of observation reached celestial levels. For example, Coy Woodward, an iOS developer for BMW, posted this:

NASA, though, offered a simple explanation. 

"The 'do not touch' 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 okay. Otherwise, the hardware would have had a protective cover over it like the thermal heat shield, which was nearby," a spokesman told me.

Pence's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Sometimes, it's hard not to touch when we see fascinating things. How many times have we sat in museums on chairs that enjoy discreet signs such as "DO NOT SIT HERE"? 

When you get this up close and personal to something that might propel a human to the great beyond, you surely want to commune with it, if only for a brief second. Then you can tell your friends you had a hand in the space mission.

Those who feel the space mission has rather lost its way in the last, say, 30 years, will at least be heartened to hear any positive words about space exploration at all.

In his speech, the vice president explained: "President Trump's vision for space, though, is much larger than NASA alone. Our president is transforming our entire space policy to seize the opportunities of the 21st century and unleash the infinite potential of the cosmos for the American people."

This is vital. After all, we're going to have to escape this planet very soon. We need somewhere else to go. It's all hands to the pump.

First published July 7 at 9:55 a.m. PT.
Updated at 12:28 p.m.
: Adds comment from NASA noting that it was OK for Pence to touch the hardware.

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