Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Government and Balloons

            I am going to write a bit about some of the United States’ history with balloons.  It is more entertaining than you might think.

            During WWI the use of airships to carry explosives was first fully realized, for some reason the idea of aircraft as useful for anything other than scouting had not come into effect yet.  Seen as a new sort of sport but not something of warfare, WWI changed that.  Scouting, dogfighting, and bombing all bloomed.  Airships and balloons were a part of this.

            But the whole operation/technology was dependent on Helium.  This gas was critical to their use because it would not explode unlike the more common Hydrogen.  The United States Congress ordered that a stockpile of Helium be created and maintained so as to always stay at the forefront of airship warfare.

            Since lighter than air bombing craft were rendered obsolete by the existence of B-52's and similar flying fortresses the Helium stockpile was not used for military purposes. However, the stockpile was still on the books and was kept because of federal law that nobody ever edits.  If this is starting to sound like a dark comedy about how bureaucracy creates needless things and then forgets about them like a turbulent child, you’ve guessed where this is going.

            Flash forward to the 90's. The end of the Cold War resulted in the largest draw down of military arms in history as numerous air craft, sea craft, land craft, and NUKES were all decommissioned.  Peace at last.  Peace at last.  God be praised we have peace at last. This allowed the US congress to finally start looking for useless junk to cut from the budget and what did they find?  A shit ton of Helium.
            So, the Helium stock pile was to be sold at bargain basement prices to the free market. This caused all helium manufacturing businesses to disappear because contrary to what you may think, that shit is actually super useful and valuable.  This did have the side effect of making coolant systems a lot cheaper, coolant systems like those found in MRI machines.  This is why MRI's are ultra-common now, they were cheap for hospitals to buy because of Helium prices falling.

            Flash forward a little further, turns out the stockpile lasted for longer than the Government anticipated, in part because decommissioned NUKEs produce a lot of Helium. But just a couple years ago the Helium was going to run out. This stupid century long waste of money would be over.... NOPE!!!!

            Since the cheap Helium had knocked out all the civilian manufacturing for the product and there were now numerous high tech industries that required a supply the Government is now going to have to start manufacturing the Helium just to give out in order to keep a large sector of the tech industry from suddenly crashing do to not having access to a critical material. And no new market source of Helium will crop up so long as the government is selling it cheap. So now we are all stuck in a loop because someone thought blimps were critical to national defense.


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