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A helium shortage is threatening to deflate a western New York museum's plans for the July 4 launch of a manned balloon like the ones used in the Civil War to guide Union artillery against Confederate positions.

The Intrepid is a centerpiece of the Genesee Country Museum's 150th anniversary commemoration of the Civil War. It replicates one of the hydrogen-powered balloons troops used to telegraph intelligence that allowed ground forces to train guns on enemies they couldn't see.

But with its scheduled debut fast approaching, museum officials fear the $400,000 one-of-a-kind project will fall flat.

Helium is in short supply because of the 1996 Helium Privatization Act that called on the government to sell off most of its helium reserves by 2015.

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