Monday, December 24, 2007

How NORAD (The Santa Radar)Tracks Santa Claus

The NORAD Tracks Santa Web site is the form of a public relations program by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). For over fifty years on Christmas Eve NORAD has told stories of how their powerful tracking systems such as the Distant Early Warning Line (DEW Line) detected Santa Claus leaving the North Pole to deliver his presents.This happens every year.

Official NORAD Santa Tracker Website (multi-lingual) & official hotline: 1-877-HI-NORAD


In 1955, a Colorado Springs-based Sears store ran an advertisement encouraging children to call Santa Claus on a special telephone hotline. Due to a printing error, the phone number that was printed was the hotline for the Director of Operations at the Continental Air Defense (CONAD). Colonel Harry Shoup took the first Santa call on Christmas Eve of 1955 from a six-year old boy who began reciting his Christmas list. Shoup didn't find the call funny, but after asking the mother of the second caller what was happening, then realizing the mistake that occurred, he instructed his staff to give Santa's position to any child who called in.

Three years later, the governments of the United States and Canada combined their national domestic air defenses into the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), but the tradition continued. Now major media outlets as well as children call in to inquire on Santa's location. NORAD relies on volunteers to help make Santa tracking possible. Many employees at Cheyenne Mountain and Peterson Air Force Base spend part of their Christmas Eve with their families and friends at NORAD's Santa Tracking Operations Center in order to answer phones and provide Santa updates to thousands of callers. About 800 service members and their families volunteer, and shift run from 2 a.m. MST December 24 to 2 a.m. Christmas morning.

In 1997, Canadian Major Jamie Robertson took over the program and expanded it to the Web where corporation-donated services have given the tradition global accessibility. In 2004, NORAD received more than 35,000 e-mails, 55,000 calls and 912 million hits on the Santa-tracking website from 181 countries. In 2005, more than 500 volunteers answered questions. The site now gets well over 1 billion hits.

The fictional background storyline has changed with the world political situation: during the Cold War when the tracking team provided updates via radio announcements, only North America was mentioned and Santa's approach was described in tense terms with interceptor aircraft scrambled to shoot down the "bogie." Only at the last minute would the pilot realize who he was engaging. Now the Web shows that as Santa approaches Newfoundland, a flight of Canadian Air Force fighters (CF-18 Hornets as of 2006) rendezvouses with him to provide an honor guard and ensure that he has no difficulty with the various Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) he must enter.

In 2005 holiday season marked the fiftieth anniversary of NORAD's annual tracking of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.

In 2006, NORAD Tracks Santa began using Microsoft Virtual Earth-style maps that instantly provide Santa's current location.

In 2007, NORAD Tracks Santa will begin using Google Earth to track Santa Claus in 3-D. They will also instantly provide Santa's location.

Hourly updates

The Web site is updated each hour to show a CGI-rendered Santa flying over one or more major cities in the time zone where it is midnight. These are viewable as videos which also include a voiceover from a member of NORAD staff (usually; on the 2005 (and 2006 due to the voiceovers being re-used) site, the video showing him over London had a voiceover by well known British celebrity Jonathan Ross, and 2004 had former Beatle Ringo Starr), explaining his location along with various facts about Santa and the country his is visiting.

In 2006, the videos described Santa

1. taking off from the North Pole and proceeding south along the International Date Line
2. visiting Auckland, Picton, and Cloudy Bay, New Zealand
3. passing over the Sydney Opera House as he enters Australia
4. passing Fuji-san and a 500 series Shinkansen "bullet train" in Japan
5. flying along the Great Wall of China and into Siberia
6. crossing the Hump (the Himalayas in Nepal)
7. passing the Taj Mahal in India
8. climbing to an altitude of some 240 miles (385 kilometers) to visit the International Space Station
9. admiring the "onion dome" architecture of Moscow (though passing through quickly, because the Eastern Orthodox Church prefer to give presents on Epiphany)
10. passing the Egyptian Pyramids and the Sphinx heading toward Cairo[19]
11. covering Italy while admiring the Colosseum in Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the canals of Venic
12. traveling north over the castles of Bavaria and into the rest of Germany
13. circling the Eiffel Tower in Paris
14. leaving North Africa and the Canary Islands for London (announced by Jonathan Ross of the BBC)
15. rendezvousing in mid-Atlantic Ocean with an unidentified Ohio-class submarine
16. coming into Rio de Janeiro past Cristo Redentor
17. touring Machu Picchu
18. entering the United States Northern Command by transiting up the coast of Florida past Kennedy Space Center
19. delivering to New York City while admiring the Statue of Liberty and Central Park before continuing into Quebec
20. flying through the Gateway Arch at St. Louis
21. pausing in Manitoba at Reindeer Lake
22. passing over NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Operation Center before continuing to Alberta and Saskatchewan
23. orbiting Seattle's Space Needle and proceeding to California
24. finishing his mission at Hawaii

Notably, most of the videos posted on the 2006 site are the same ones (both in visuals and voiceover) as the ones posted on the 2005 site. Previous years have used the same visuals, but different voiceovers.

In 2004

1. Lifting off from the North Pole
2. visiting Auckland, Picton, and Cloudy Bay, New Zealand
3. Visiting Sydney, Australia
4. Japan
5. Visiting the Great Wall of China
6. Visiting the Himalayas Mountains in Nepal
7. Visitng India and the Taj Mahal
8. Santa visitng the Persian Gulf
9. Santa visiting Russia
10. Santa visiting Egypt and the International Space Station
11. Visiting Greece and flying over the olympic stadium
12. Visiting the Coliseum
13. Visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris
14. Beatle celebrity Ringo Starr tells us about Santa in England
15. Santa in the Atlantic Ocean
16. Santa in Brazil passing Christ the Redeemer
17. Santa in Canada then heading to South
18. Santa delivering gifts in Maine
19. Santa in New York
20. Santa in St. Louis
21. Santa in Manitoba
22. Santa in Colorado Springs
23. Santa in Seattle
24. santa ends his mission in Hawaii

NORAD Account of Tracking

NORAD details its fictional tracking system:

Detecting Santa all starts with the NORAD radar system called the North Warning System. This powerful 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 our radar tells us that Santa has lifted off, we use our second mode of detection, the same satellites that we use in providing warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America. These satellites are located in a geo-synchronous orbit (that's a cool phrase meaning that the satellite is always fixed over the same spot on the Earth) at 22,300 miles above the Earth. The satellites have infrared sensors, meaning they can detect heat. When a rocket or missile is launched, a tremendous amount of heat is produced - enough for the satellites to detect. Rudolph's nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch. The satellites can detect Rudolph's bright red nose with practically no problem. With so many years of experience, NORAD has become good at tracking aircraft entering North America, detecting worldwide missile launches and tracking the progress of Santa, thanks to Rudolph.

The third detection system we use is the Santa Cam. We began using it in 1998 - the year we put our Santa Tracking program on the Internet. NORAD Santa Cams are ultra-cool 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. We immediately download the images on to our web site for people around the world to see. Santa Cams produce both video and still images.

The fourth detection system we 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.

Corporate Sponsorship

The WHOIS lookup for indicates that domain is owned by Analytical Graphics, Inc. In 2006, NORAD officials specifically thanked Island Web Studios, America Online, Akamai, Analytical Graphics, Globelink Language and Cultural Services, Qwest Communications, Verizon, and Microsoft Virtual Earth for help with the program[1]. In 2007, the primary sponsorship is Qwest Communications and Google Corp.

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