NORAD's Santa tracking set to launch on Christmas Eve

Fri Dec 23, 2011 7:10pm GMT

A man dressed like Santa Claus sits in his sleigh as he prepares for Christmas on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, northern Finland, December 19, 2007. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

A man dressed like Santa Claus sits in his sleigh as he prepares for Christmas on the Arctic Circle in Rovaniemi, northern Finland, December 19, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Kacper Pempel

(Reuters) - With Santa's departure from the North Pole imminent, preparations to track his global trek were underway on Friday at an aerospace command center in Colorado.

Children eager for Santa's take-off can count down the hours on the track Santa clock on the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Tracks Santa website.

Also on the website, kids can watch Santa prepare for his flight, check out the bustling shops in the North Pole and then watch online "Santa cams" as the big bearded guy in the red suit visits kids around the world.

Year-round, NORAD is tasked with protecting the skies of North America, monitoring man-made objects in space and detecting any potential attack by aircraft, missiles or space vehicles.

Tracking Santa seems to be a natural seasonal extension of NORAD's typical duties.

"His flight is something that we absolutely would track," said Lieutenant Commander Bill Lewis, a NORAD spokesman.

"Rudolph's nose helps us quite a bit with that. His nose puts off quite the heat signature," Lewis said.

The origins of tracking Santa date back to 1955, Lewis said, when a local ad to speak directly with Santa printed the wrong phone number -- instead directing children to a military defense operations center.

Tracking Santa grew from there after officers on duty actually fielded the kids questions, he said.

For more than 50 years NORAD has followed the flight path of jolly old Saint Nick, but these days technology helps children and families pinpoint Santa's more exact route to their own homes.

This year, kids can download mobile device apps to watch Santa and the reindeer traverse the globe.

Otherwise, they can call or email the command center for Santa's coordinates.

Last year, 1,250 military families, civilians and local volunteers from around Colorado Springs took shifts at NORAD's facility to field more than 80,000 calls and countless emails from children asking where Santa is and when he might be coming down their chimney.

But as all good youngsters know, and volunteers remind them when they call in, Santa won't be able to stop by your home until you are sound asleep.

(Editing by Jerry Norton)