Satellite Broadcasting in. Rural India: The SITE Project

The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) was a major NASA applications satellite program for educational TV in India. The project involved the use of NASA’s Application Technology Satellite-6 (ATS-6) to broadcast edu­cational programs directly to television sets placed in different rural clusters. The agreement for SITE was signed between NASA and India’s Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) in 1969. The project was executed from August 1975 to July 1976 and received a great deal of media attention in the country. It was touted as a massive experiment in social engineering and was hailed by some enthusiasts as the world’s largest sociological experiment.1 The British science writer Arthur C. Clarke called it the “greatest communications experiment in history.”2

Praise for the intangible benefits of the SITE project was perhaps best sum­marized in a report to the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space:

SITE can be considered a pace-setter and fore-runner of satellite television systems particularly of those meant for development. It is an example of technological and psychological emancipation of the developing world. Its most important element was the commitment and dedication of all people and organizations involved to the one overriding goal of rural development in India. From this follows the crucial role of motivation and cooperation for the success of complex and challenging tasks.3

The official Indian reaction to SITE was very positive. The immediate vis­ible results of the broadcast, as cited by project evaluators in the rural clusters, was improved school attendance, increased concern for proper nutrition, and an awareness of sanitation and personal hygiene as methods of disease preven­tion. One of the unanticipated benefits of the program was the electrification of numerous villages, a prerequisite for television reception.4 For the Indians, the visual demonstration galvanized public opinion in favor of a space program focused on socioeconomic needs. It helped the country gain competence in using satellites for mass communication and was a systems management les­son for managing Indian National Satellite (INSAT) systems.5 SITE played an important role in the development of mass media in India, and its legacy can

Satellite Broadcasting in. Rural India: The SITE Project

Figure 12.1 Artist’s conception of ATS relay. Source: NASA.

still be seen today when one watches educational programs sponsored by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which are broadcast on national televi­sion channels on a regular basis. ISRO’s recent launching of EDUSAT, a satellite designed exclusively for educational needs, can be traced back to SITE.6