Since 1955 NORAD has been tracking Santa’s Christmas Eve journey and keeping the spirit of Christmas alive in the hearts of millions. Why would a national defense system use manpower and equipment for such a whimsical purpose? It all began with a misprinted phone number in a Sears-Roebuck add. The department store had advertised for children to call in and talk to Santa, but thanks to the misprint, the first caller got CONAD (what NORAD used to be called). Luckily, Colonel Harry Shoup was at the helm, and he entertained the youngster’s wishes by asking his team to report back on where the unfortunatley unavailable Santa was in the world. The child’s appreciative response touched the Colonel’s heart, and the team continued to take calls through the night.
Ever since Colonel Shoup’s kind and humorous approach to the question of Santa’s whereabouts, NORAD has used volunteer power to answer phone calls, monitor Santa’s progess through high-tech equipment, and more recently, build online tracking systems the whole family can watch on Christmas Eve. According to the official NORAD Santa Tracker website, NORAD uses four cutting edge tracking systems to keep an eye on the bearded gift-giver: radar, satellites, fighter-jets, and of course, Santa Cams. The use of radar is self-explanatory, but the satellites are another story. NORAD actually has several of them at 22,300 miles above the Earth’s surface, and they detect the infrared heat signature of Santa, his warm and fuzzy reindeer, and of course, Rudolph’s nose! Fighter jets keep tabs on radar reports and approach Santa with care in order to get a visual on him and to get a chance to ride next to him for a brief instant — the reindeer can outrun an F-16 before long. Finally the Santa Cams are strategically placed in cities and towns where we can get a good clear shot of Santa, and NORAD captures new images of him on the move every year.
NORAD has been followed up by other Santa tracking systems, thanks to the magic of the internet. Google Earth works with NORAD to power their own Santa tracker. NORAD has also assigned some students with the task of catching Santa on video, with some amazing results. However you track Santa this year, remember Colonel Shoup and NORAD, and their contribution to keeping the belief in Christmas magic alive for over fifty years.
Visit the official NORAD Santa Tracker site for the complete history, technical information, and important updates on Santa tracking technology.