With the advent of NORAD's 51st season of tracking Santa Claus on his annual journey around the world, the North American Aerospace Defense Command activated its "NORAD Tracks Santa" Web site for 2006 (
What They Do All Year Round
NORAD is the bi-national U.S. - Canadian military organization responsible for the aerospace defense of the United States and Canada. NORAD was created by a 1958 agreement between Canada and the United States. The agreement has been renewed nine times - most recently this year. NORAD provides warning of missile and air attack against both of its member nations, safeguards the air sovereignty of North America, and provides air defense forces for defense against an air attack. NORAD's mission has evolved over the years to meet the aerospace defense needs of Canada and the United States. The most recent "evolution" in NORAD's mission came as a result of September 11, 2001. Because of that day, NORAD now monitors the airspace within Canada and the United States, too. In addition, the command also conducts maritime warning.
NORAD's Special Year End Duties Began in 1955
It all began in 1955 when an errant phone call was made to NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD). A Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. store advertisement for children to call Santa on a special "hotline" included an inadvertently misprinted telephone number. Instead of Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief's operations "hotline." The Director of Operations, Colonel Harry Shoup, received the first "Santa" call on Christmas Eve 1955. Realizing what had happened; Colonel Shoup had his staff check radar data to see if there was any indication of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Indeed there were signs of Santa and children who called were given an update on Santa's position. Thus, the tradition was born.
The program has grown significantly since it was first presented on the Internet in 1998. Last year, the Web site received 912 million "hits" from 204 countries and territories. In addition, the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center, occupied by 550 volunteers on Christmas Eve, answered nearly 55,000 phone calls and nearly 98,240 e-mails from children around the world.
The Web site offers the history of the program, information on how NORAD tracks Santa, and a few interactive games. On Dec. 24, beginning at 4 a.m., the Web site will feature a minute-by-minute update on Santa's travels around the world. All of this information is available English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.
But How Do They Do It
) uses four high-tech systems to track Santa: Radar, Satellites, Santa Cams, and Jet Fighter aircraft.
Detecting Santa all starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System. This radar system has 47 installations strung across the northern border of North America. NORAD makes a point of checking the radar closely for indications of Santa Claus leaving the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
The moment their radar tells them that Santa has lifted off, they use their second mode of detection, satellites. These satellites are located in a geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles above the Earth. The satellites have infrared sensors and Rudolph's nose gives off an infrared signature. The satellites can detect Rudolph's bright red nose with practically no problem.
The third detection system used is the Santa Cam. They began using it in 1998 - the year they put the Santa Tracking program on the Internet. NORAD Santa Cams are high-tech high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many places around the world. NORAD only uses these cameras once a year - Christmas Eve. The cameras capture images of Santa and the Reindeer as they make their journey around the world.
The fourth detection system they use is the NORAD jet fighter. Canadian NORAD fighter pilots, flying the CF-18, take off out of Newfoundland to intercept and welcome Santa to North America. Then at numerous locations in Canada other CF-18 fighter pilots escort Santa. While in the United States, American NORAD fighter pilots in either the F-15 or F-16 get the thrill of flying with Santa and the famous Reindeer Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph. About a dozen NORAD fighters in Canada and the United States are equipped with Santa Cams.
You Too Can Watch Santa's Track
As I post this, Friday December 15 at 8 a.m., according to NORAD (
) Santa will begin his early morning Christmas Eve travels around the world in eight days and twenty hours (
Good Tracking and Happy Holidays to All!
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt