Planetary scientist and former Harvard Society of Fellows Junior Fellow Sarah Stewart Johnson’s “O-Rings,” originally published in issue 43 of Harvard Review, was recently selected for this year’s Best American Science and Nature Writing anthology. Covers for the Review’s issues 41 and 42, designed by Alex Camlin, were featured in Print Magazine’s 2013 Regional Design Annual competition.
Stories from Harvard Review are also slated to appear in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014, Best American Mystery Stories 2014 and Best Canadian Short Stories 2014. “It’s been a great year for us,” said Christina Thompson, editor of Harvard Review. “I’m always so happy for our contributors when their work is acknowledged in this way.”
Johnson’s essay, her first published piece of non-technical writing, reflects on a summer spent in one of the coldest places on earth, where she was taken by two huts built for turn-of the-century British polar expeditions.
In 1911, five members of the expedition team reached the South Pole only to discover that a Norwegian crew had beaten them to it. All five men died on the return journey, having unearthed a stored cache of supplies only to find that the O-rings, the flexing gaskets that sealed the fuel inside the canisters, had turned brittle and cracked, leading to the evaporation of the much-needed fuel. Seventy-four years later, the same rings were blamed for the Challenger shuttle disaster.
Johnson draws a connection between the two tragic events and meditates on the human fascination with frontiers.