High-tech Ho Ho: Military installation NORAD’s Santa tracker adds Twitter, Google Earth

Thursday, December 24, 2009

NORAD tracks Santa’s sleigh for a high-tech Ho Ho

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Even Santa Tweets.

A military installation in Colorado has been issuing Christmas Eve reports of Santa Claus’ progress to eager children for more than five decades.

Now the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, uses more than a phone bank and large glass screen to track the jolly old man. Google Earth, Twitter and a Web site tricked out with video now help millions of children worldwide keep track of Santa’s sleigh.

According to NORAD, Santa began his latest flight early Thursday at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean. He was off the southern tip of South America by Thursday evening, local time. Historically, Santa visits the South Pacific first, then New Zealand and Australia. NORAD points out that only Santa knows his route.

But children who want to follow Santa’s route — perhaps to know how late they can stay awake before he’s in the neighborhood — can now contribute a mobile phone number for text message updates from the military.

NORAD had received 40,359 phone calls and hundreds of Facebook comments by Thursday evening on Santa’s whereabouts, Army Maj. Mike Humphreys said.

NORAD’s Santa tracking tradition started in 1955 by accident. The (Colorado Springs) Gazette ran a Sears Roebuck ad that told kids to dial a number if they wanted to talk to Santa.

But the number was one digit off. When the first call came to NORAD’s predecessor, a military colonel who answered the phone played along. Unable to break the boy’s heart, he sounded a booming “Ho, ho, ho!” and pretended to be Santa Claus.

When more calls poured in, Col. Harry W. Shoup stopped playing Santa. Instead, staffers at the military installation started pretending to be checking the radars for Santa’s sleigh.

NORAD now issues reports in five languages. NORAD’s main mission is monitoring air and space threats against the U.S. and Canada.

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