Episode 933: Find The Helium : Planet Money Helium is so special, and so rare, that the U.S. government once tried to buy it all up. And hide it. But the government's helium stockpile is running low. And we need it for MRI machines and NASA rockets.
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Episode 933: Find The Helium

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Episode 933: Find The Helium

Episode 933: Find The Helium

Episode 933: Find The Helium

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/751845378/751922626" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

When hunting for helium, you need to drill deep down into the earth, well past the Jurassic period. These rocks are really old. Sarah Gonzalez hide caption

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Sarah Gonzalez

When hunting for helium, you need to drill deep down into the earth, well past the Jurassic period. These rocks are really old.

Sarah Gonzalez

The U.S. found helium on Earth before anyone else. The military saw so much potential in this lifting gas that the government tried to keep helium a secret. There were code words like, "send more pups from the same litter." That meant send more helium.

The government started a stockpile of it. Now, helium is essential for space exploration, MRI machines and making our cell phones.

But there is a helium shortage. There are entire birthday parties with droopy, helium-less balloons because party stores are out.

Today on the show, a series of government decisions and counter-decisions that helped create that shortage. Also, we go looking for new sources of helium.

Music: "Back To The Lab."

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