Space Awareness

NORAD Tracks Santa for 61st Year Thanks to GPS

Written by: developer

by Colleen Parith, Coordinator – Social Media & Public Relations

It all began 61 years ago on Christmas Eve, right here in Colorado Springs, when a young child called a hotline promising to disclose the location of Santa Claus as he made his yearly journey around the world. The hotline number had been misprinted, and instead of reaching Santa’s helpers, the child reached the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operation Center. That first call, and each that followed that evening, was answered by Colonel Harry Shoup and his operators, and instead of telling each child they had the wrong number, the team stepped up, and informed each caller the location of St. Nick.

This tradition has been passed on to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and every year, teams of volunteers stand by, using satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters equipped with Santa cams, to track Santa on his mission around the globe and report it to anyone who calls or even emails.

As a Colorado Springs native, and the grandchild of a retired Airman who spent time working at NORAD, this was also a tradition in my home, one very close to my heart. While we would not call, the local news would always have reports from NORAD, showing where on the map Santa was, and how long before he made his way to my hometown. We would peer outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sleigh before I would head to bed, (pictured below).

Little did I know, or understand, at that age, that this was all possible thanks to space technology. The satellite systems tracking our jolly friend, also provide warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America, which can detect heat, and the infrared signature of Rudolph’s nose (which I remember most from my childhood on the local news stories, as they would show a blinking, plane-type light crossing the map – which was none other than a shiny red nose!) The North Warning System, a radar system, consisting of 47 installations strung across the northern border of North America, helps NORAD track the moment Santa leaves the North Pole. Then, there’s a team of Canadian and American NORAD jet fighters, with Santa cams to give a more precise location of Santa.

I may not have had the appreciation of space technology at that age, but I certainly do today, and when I look around and see how space has impacted my life, I know I have a lot to be thankful for every day!

NORAD Tracks Santa is a Space Certified product. Learn more about them here.

Beginning December 1, on your home computer and on your smart phone, you can join NORAD as they count down the days to Santa’s launch from the North Pole. Then on December 24, tune in once again to join the experience of tracking Santa and his reindeer across the globe by logging onto, and for regular updates about the cool games and other fun activities that will be offered on the website, visit the NORAD Tracks Santa Facebook page at You may also call for information at 1-877 HI NORAD or email [email protected].

This article is part of Space Watch: December 2016 (Volume: 15, Issue: 12).