CAPE CANAVERAL, FL— Moments after having their shuttle launch delayed, Discovery astronauts complained once again Monday about John Wilkins—that annoying little program manager who insists on every detail of every space mission being exactly right.
Wilkins, who is reportedly always double-checking launch parameters for no good reason, and sticking his nose into parts of the spacecraft that have always worked just fine, delayed the NASA flight for the third time this past month.
"It's always 'Are the solid rocket boosters functioning at full capacity?' and 'Do the liquid oxygen prevalves operate as required?' with John," Discovery commander James Reid said. "If it weren't for that guy, we'd already be in space by now."
In addition to his insistence on mission coordinates being 100 percent accurate, Wilkins reportedly spends all his time obsessing about Discovery's general purpose computers, which ignite the main engines and ensure that the craft can safely reach the speed of 18,000 mph.
"Is there anything John doesn't worry about?" said Michael Dennigan, the shuttle crew's second-in-command. "This isn't rocket science—you'd think he'd try to relax a bit."
Since he was assigned to it last year, Wilkins has aborted the NASA mission for a wide range of seemingly unimportant reasons, including a 4-inch crack in the exterior hull of the ship, the failure of several engine cut-off sensors, and what has been described as "the smallest of possible thunderstorms."
Following their latest delay, Discovery crew members were seen throwing up their arms, shaking their heads in disgust, and letting out a unified, exasperated sigh.
"The goal of this mission is to launch into space both safely and successfully," announced Wilkins, who then spent an interminable number of hours tinkering with the retrieval system responsible for guiding the spacecraft back to Earth. "It is of chief importance that everything goes as planned."
The insufferable perfectionist's fixation goes beyond ship maintenance and safety, however. In the past six months, Wilkins has totally smothered Discovery astronauts, forcing them to complete endless navigation simulations, practice sea survival techniques despite the lack of water in space, and train for all kinds of hypothetical emergency evacuations, the vast majority of which will never even happen.
"I'm healthy, willing, and able," pilot Harold King said. "Come on. This is NASA we're talking about here. Everything is going to be fine."
In its 51-year history, NASA has launched more than 150 successful manned missions into space, and, with only three recorded disasters, many at the Kennedy Space Center have reportedly begun to lose their patience.
In the past week, Cape Canaveral sources have observed the astronauts pass the time by pacing back and forth, bouncing tennis balls against the wall, and pretending as if they were already in space. Throughout it all, Wilkins has continued his incessant fiddling, going so far as to fix the ship's onboard radio early Thursday morning.
"He's making the flight engineers review the ship for two days? I can see it from here. It's fine," James Reid said. "The equipment's good, the fuel's good, the gyroscopic compass that keep us from floating aimlessly out into the vacuum space is good. What more does he want?"
Added Reid, "I'm starting to hope our shuttle disintegrates just to spite that guy."