December 24, 2010

NORAD Still Tracking Santa, 45 Years Later

NORAD insiders will never tell you how they are precisely able to track Santa's flight path onto their computer screens every Christmas Eve, but they will let you know where he is at any given moment.

NORAD is a joint U.S.-Canada command that monitors the North American skies and seas from a control center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs.

The base answered 74,000 phone calls and 3,500 emails from around the world last year, all asking about Santa's where-a-bouts.

A spokeswoman for NORAD, Joyce Frankovis, told the Associated Press (AP) that it takes four months of planning to marshal the 1,200 volunteers, 100 telephones, 30 laptops and two big projection TV screens to properly respond to the inquiries of St. Nick's location.

The 'NORAD Tracks Santa' project tarted in 1955 when a Colorado Springs newspaper ad invited kids to talk to Santa on a hotline.  The phone number had a typo and dozens of kids ended up dialing the Continental Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, the predecessor to NORAD.

Officers on duty decided to play along and passed along reports on Santa's progress.  It is now a cherished ritual at NORAD.

"It's really ingrained in the NORAD psyche and culture," said Canadian Forces Lt. Gen. Marcel Duval, the deputy commander of NORAD, who pitches in to field French-language calls on Christmas Eve. "It's a goodwill gesture from all of us, on our time off, to all the kids on the planet."

Gerry Bowler, a history professor at the University of Manitoba and the author of "Santa Clause: A Biography," told AP's Dan Elliott that it is also one of the few modern additions to the centuries-old Santa Claus story.

Bowler said that most embellishments never capture the public's imagination because they tend to be ad campaigns or movies that try to "kidnap" Santa for commercial purposes.

He said that NORAD has "brought Santa into the 20th century."

Over 13 million visitors went to the "NORAD Tracks Santa" website last December alone.

"We get e-mails from parents thanking us," said Mike Wilkerson, a network engineer responsible for setting up the phones and computers and keeping them running.

Canadian Forces Lt. General Marcel Duval said that tracking Santa does not interfere with NORAD's other job, which is watching out for enemy threats to the North American continent.


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