[Oceanographer Robert] Ballard met with the Navy in 1982 to request funding to develop the robotic submersible technology he needed to find the Titanic.
Ronald Thunman, then the deputy chief of naval operations for submarine warfare, told Ballard the military was interested in the technology—but for the purpose of investigating the wreckage of the U.S.S. Thresher and U.S.S. Scorpion.
Since Ballard's technology would be able to reach the sunken subs and take pictures, the oceanographer agreed to help out.
He then asked the Navy if he could search for the Titanic, which was located between the two wrecks.
"I was a little short with him," said Thunman, who retired as a vice admiral and now lives in Springfield, Illinois. He emphasized that the mission was to study the sunken warships.
Once Ballard had completed his mission—if time was left—Thunman said, Ballard could do what he wanted, but never gave him explicit permission to search for the Titanic.
*Previously: The reason the US built fancy telescopes wasn't to look for aliens, it was to find Soviet nuke sites.