December 23, 2007
Starting at 2 a.m. today, the military will use billions of dollars worth of high-tech equipment, including America’s newest fighter, the F-22 Raptor, to keep an eye on Santa Claus.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs will spare nothing in tracking the toy-packing elf from the North Pole on his globespanning trek. With a record-setting 900 volunteers, double what it had in 2005, the American-Canadian alliance is spending Christmas Eve answering thousands of phone calls and e-mails from children who wanted the latest position on Santa. “We tested the equipment during a Nov. 24 test flight and verified with the North Pole staff that all systems are operable,” said NORAD spokeswoman Maj. Stacy Reddish. The command is charged with defending North America against airborne threats, from terrorist planes to nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Reddish says pilots who are pledged to defend the country from air attack, though, will just greet Santa when they escort him to the continent tonight. “We’re not in fear for Santa’s safety,” said Reddish, a member of the Air Force Reserve. “Santa can take care of himself.” The command has been tracking Santa since 1955, when the wrong phone number was placed in a department store advertisement in The Gazette. The ad encouraged kids to call Santa, but the number provided went accidentally to the nation’s air defense headquarters. Airmen in Colorado Springs fielded the calls and added a military twist by providing radar tracking data on Santa’s location. The command fielded nearly a billion visits to its Santa-tracking Web site last year and got 435,000 phone calls. NORAD will use many resources to keep an eye on Santa. “NORAD Santa Cams are ultra-cool, high-tech, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many places around the world,” the command’s Web site says. “NORAD only uses these cameras once a year — Christmas Eve.” Reddish declined to discuss the technology behind the cameras, which are reportedly placed aboard satellites in geostationary orbit. The cameras must be among the world’s best because they can snap images of Santa, who covers the globe at a speed that exceeds 2,280 miles per second — about 500 times faster than NASA rockets. Reddish said the effort going into tracking Santa, though, doesn’t cost taxpayers anything. The phones are staffed by volunteers, and even the Santa-tracking Web site is paid for with donations. The work has brought sleighloads of good will from children who e-mail Santa through the command’s Web site, www.noradsanta.org, which was redesigned for free this year by the defense contracting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. The site will also show a map of Santa’s location through software provided by search-engine giant Google. Kids can also check on Santa by calling 1 877 446-6723.