NORAD Santa Tracker Celebrates Sixty Years
Written by Lucy Black   
Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The 2015 NORAD Santa Tracker is now live and its updated graphic notes the fact that this is its 60th Anniversary. Microsoft is hoping that the popularity of this website will entice users to upgrade to Windows 10.


You may find the idea that NORAD, which routinely tracks airplanes, missiles, space launches and anything else that flies in or around the North American continent, also tracks Santa a bit spooky. In fact the tradition started by accident in the days of its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD).

As the website explains:

The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement misprinted the telephone number for children to call Santa. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the CONAD Commander-in-Chief's operations "hotline." The Director of Operations at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Children who called were given updates on his location, and a tradition was born.

NORAD takes its mission to track Santa very seriously and claims to use its entire North Warning System of 47 radar installations to check for indications of Santa Claus leaving the North Pole. Once Santa has set off the same satellites used to detect incoming missiles are used to track his progress.  Located in a geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles above the Earth these satellites have infrared sensors, meaning they can see the heat given off by Rudolph the Reindeer's bright red nose. Its jet fighters are also involved:

Canadian NORAD fighter pilots, flying the CF-18, take off out of Newfoundland 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-15s, F16s or F-22s get the thrill of flying with Santa and the famous Reindeer - Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph. Even though Santa flies faster than any jet fighter (Santa actually slows down for us to escort him), all of these systems together provide NORAD with a very good continuous picture of his whereabouts.




NORAD has also installed equipment specifically to track Santa - its SantaCams. Since 1998, when the Santa Tracking program was first put on the Internet NORAD these high-speed digital cameras that produce video and still images are switched on about one hour before Santa enters a country and switch off again once images of Santa and the Reindeer have been captured. These images (both still and video) are downloaded and put on NORAD's web site for people around the world to see. 

Santa Tracker is powered by Microsoft Azure and Microsoft uses its technology to bring features to the site - including Cortana integration. Any time on December 24, Windows Phone users can ask Cortana for Santa’s location. For kids Santa’s North Pole Village has games and activities, with a new one presented one per day until December 23. New this year is a web coloring book accessible only using Microsoft Edge and Microsoft is using this as a lever to get users to upgrade to Windows 10.




NORAD also tries to sell you things - including a 60th anniversary version of a personalized certificate. But if you can put up with the commercialism, and the non-stop (but mutable) jingles, this Santa Tracker is an attractive way to join in the excitement of the countdown to Christmas.




More Information

Official NORAD Santa Tracker


Related Articles

Google's Santa Tracker Introduces Coding Lab 

Santa Trackers from Google and Microsoft 

Track Santa With Google And NORAD


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