Mike Pence became the butt of an internet joke after his visit to NASA – but he seemed to be laughing too.

The US Vice President visited Cape Canaveral in Florida and could not resist touching what was labelled as "critical space flight hardware".

He appeared completely oblivious to a sign just above his hand that said, in red capital letters: do not touch.

But it was too late: the moment Mr Pence let his curiosity get the better of him, the cameras clicked away and a mini sensation had been created.

The Twittersphere criticised him, with one person describing him as having the "self control of a sugar-charged 3rd grader on a field trip".

Another told him he "should be an example".

Mr Pence tweeted on Friday to apologise to NASA, joking that Senator Marco Rubio, who had visited the space agency with him, had "dared me to do it". Just to make it extra clear, he drew a red circle around the head of Mr Rubio, who had been standing behind him in the photo.

The tweet got him more than 3,000 re-tweets and 10,000 likes.

Mr Rubio, for his part, replied to Mr Pence’s tweet with: "In fairness, I warned (the Vice President) that ‘you break it, you own it’."

But Mr Pence wasn’t quite finished.

He – or perhaps a staffer – loaded up some photo-editing software and replaced the piece of Orion with a porcupine, tweeting the picture with a caption: "Okay…so this isn’t exactly the first time this has happened."

The NASA Twitter account graciously accepted Mr Pence’s apology and said that the hardware – which is part of a spacecraft-in-the-making called the Orion – needed to be cleaned, anyway.

"It was OK to touch the surface," they added. "It was an honor to host you!"

In a statement, NASA spokesperson Jen Rae Wang said: "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 had a protective cover over it like the thermal heat shield, which was nearby."

Mr Pence has not exactly been famous for his sense of humour – he is better known for being very straight-laced and conservative.

But, then again, when asked in 2012 to name the biggest misconception that people have about him, his reply was: "That I dye my hair…and that I don’t have a sense of humour".

(c) Sky News 2017: US Vice President Mike Pence mocks his own NASA blunder

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