NORAD Continues Santa Tracking Tradition
By Maj. Jamie Robertson, Canadian Forces
Special to American Forces Press Service
CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN, Colo., Dec. 14, 1999 On Christmas Eve children want answers to age-old -- and some not-so-age-old -- questions about Santa Claus. Is he coming? Is he real? Is he Y2K compliant?
The North American Aerospace Defense Command here answers these and many other questions on its comprehensive, six- language Santa tracking Web site at www.noradsanta.org. All site material, including the live tracking event, is available in English, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian and Brazilian Portuguese.
NORAD attempts to set the record straight in regards to outrageous allegations that have been made by several fifth grade students as to the existence of Santa Claus. Seeing is believing, and NORAD has perfected its 45-year-old tradition of tracking Santa on Christmas Eve. They will post visual and audio updates hourly on the Web site from midnight Dec. 23rd (EST) to 5:00 a.m. Dec. 25th (EST).
This year NORAD has enlisted the help of Astronaut Sally Ride and Space.Com to assist with analysis of NORAD's Santa tracking data. Additionally, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration will maintain a satellite watch of the North Pole for weather conditions and any unusual activity.
Last year's Web site had an estimated 80 million hits over the Christmas period and featured five languages (English, Spanish, French, Japanese and Italian). The site received 43 international Internet awards.
The 1999 NORAD Tracks Santa Team again includes IBM, who will host the site on an extensive network of servers, and Analytical Graphics, who created the site and all supporting imagery. In addition, Globelink Services International coordinated the extensive translation required for the Web site. All the organizations and volunteers who help make this global NORAD Christmas project possible do so at no cost to the taxpayer.
The Santa tracking tradition started in 1955 by pure accident after a local newspaper ran an ad for a department store Santa hot line. The ad included a special phone number, which turned out to be the operations hot line to Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor.
Needless to say, the military personnel on duty were very surprised to hear six -year olds on the hot line. The senior officer on duty at the time was Air Force Col. Harry Shoup. He took the first call and quickly figured out what had happened. When kids asked if they could speak to Santa, Shoup said he was helping Santa and told the kids his officers could see Santa on the radar screens as he headed south from the North Pole.
Local media heard of the calls and reported the story. The next year, calls came flooding in to Continental Air Defense Command from children who wanted to know where Santa was. A tradition was born -- a tradition NORAD assumed in 1957. Since then, the program has expanded gradually over the years until it hit the Internet in 1997 with one million hits.