As details emerged about the implosion last week of the Titan submersible in its descent to the wreck of the Titanic nearly two and a half miles below the surface of the North Atlantic, there was widespread anger that its owner and pilot knowingly took civilians on an uncertified vessel to a depth of crushing pressure.

The billionaire investor Ray Dalio, who founded the ocean exploration company OceanX with his son, Mark, expressed what he described on Twitter as his “great anger.” He accused Stockton Rush, the chief executive of OceanGate, who was piloting the Titan, of “reckless disregard for tried-and-true safety protocols that have made manned submersible exploration extremely safe.” Within the oceanography community, that view was widely held.

Mr. Rush, trained as an aerospace engineer, had justified his decision not to have his vessel certified for safety by arguing that the regulatory process stifled growth and innovation.

“At some point, safety just is pure waste,” Mr. Rush said in an interview with David Pogue of CBS. He even suggested that safety was used as an excuse by “industry players who try to use a safety argument to stop innovation.” OceanGate put it this way on its website: “By definition, innovation is outside of an already accepted system.”

In Mr. Rush’s telling, innovation was the province of maverick individuals, not stodgy legacy players and certainly not cumbersome government bureaucracies. Mr. Rush was perpetuating a myth — one that is particularly popular in Silicon Valley and among technology start-ups — that governments are just an obstacle and that innovation comes from bold trailblazers moving fast and breaking things.

That story is often wrong, and it was 100 percent wrong in this case.

The first two deep-diving submersibles built in America were developed by the United States government and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to assist in salvage operations at sea and to install and monitor Cold War underwater listening systems, including the original version of the system that detected the implosion of the Titan.

In the 1930s, civilian oceanographers were studying a layer in the ocean where temperatures and pressures channeled sound in a way that enabled it to travel very far. Realizing this could be a powerful military communications tool, they worked with the U.S. Navy to develop technologies that exploited this sound channel. The most important of these technologies was SOSUS — the Sound Surveillance System — a complex network of listening devices called hydrophones on the seafloor designed to detect prowling Soviet submarines.

By the late 1950s, SOSUS encompassed more than 1,000 hydrophones and 30,000 miles of undersea cables and could detect sounds hundreds of miles away. But this network required monitoring, inspections and repairs. In the early 1960s, scientists and engineers at Woods Hole collaborated with the U.S. Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships to conceptualize and commission two radically innovative vessels to do that work: Aluminaut and Alvin.

As its name suggests, Aluminaut was developed with the Reynolds Metals Company, one of the largest aluminum companies in the world. It was expensive — the original expected cost was $3 million for construction and two years of operation — but the Navy was willing to take the risk, given the potential rewards. What the Navy and Woods Hole were not willing to do, however, was to risk lives. A Woods Hole engineer, James Mavor Jr., stressed that while Aluminaut was experimental, it still needed to be designed and tested as a “future operating vehicle.” No one wanted an experiment once people were in it underwater.

Aluminaut was not a success; the parties involved in its development could not agree on terms and parted ways. But a different submersible, Alvin, did succeed. In 1962, Woods Hole put out a call for bids for a titanium-hulled submersible; the winner was the electronics division of General Mills. Mostly known as a cereal maker, General Mills was in fact a highly innovative company. Among its developments was a black box flight data recorder in partnership with the University of Minnesota.

The contract called for Alvin to be built in less than a year so that it could be used in the scheduled installation of a new underwater listening system in Bermuda, but a scientific advisory committee warned about the risks of rushing: “While the delivery date is important for accomplishment of a particular mission, failure to meet the time requirement will not prejudice the general usefulness of the vehicle.”

The committee was right. General Mills missed the deadline for the Bermuda project, but Alvin went on to play leading roles in the agonizing effort in 1966 to recover a lost H-bomb from the Mediterranean Sea and the scientific discovery of complex biological communities at deep-sea hydrothermal vents. While Alvin has endured various accidents and incidents over its long career, no one has ever died in it.

Like the internet, submersible technology was commercialized in the private sector, but it was the government, not the private sector, that took the initial risks. The key participants were not disrupters; they were seasoned professionals working inside established institutions, including Reynolds Metals and General Mills, both industrial giants, and the mammoth government bureaucracy that was the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships, now called the Naval Sea Systems Command.

Critics may argue that regulations have of late become more cumbersome, which may be true. But the history of submersibles proves that innovation can develop in many contexts and without putting lives at risk. And the loss of the Titan proves that even in a mature industry, you still need regulation. Regulation may slow things down, but it also saves lives. Sometimes slowing down is a good thing.

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