Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where's Santa Now? NORAD knows

From CNN today, the story of how NORAD began tracking Santa:   (official NORAD tracking website here)

One morning in December 1955, U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, the director of operations at CONAD, the Continental Air Defense Command--NORAD's predecessor--got a phone call at his Colorado Springs, Colorado, office. This was no laughing matter. The call had come in on one of the top secret lines inside CONAD that only rang in the case of a crisis.
Grabbing the phone, Shoup must have expected the worst. Instead, a tiny voice asked, "Is this Santa Claus?"

"Dad's pretty annoyed," said Terri Van Keuren, Shoup's daughter, recalling the legend of that day in 1955. "He barks into the phone," demanding to know who's calling.

"The little voice is now crying," Van Keuren continued. "'Is this one of Santa's elves, then?'"

The Santa questions were only beginning. That day, the local newspaper had run a Sears Roebuck ad with a big picture of St. Nick and text that urged, "Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct...Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night."
But the phone number in the ad was off by a digit. Instead of connecting with Santa, callers were dialing in on the line that would ring if the Russians were attacking.   Before long, the phone was ringing off the hook, and softening up, Shoup grabbed a nearby airman and told him to answer the calls and, Van Keuren said, "'just pretend you're Santa.'"

Indeed, rather than having the newspaper pull the Sears ad, Shoup decided to offer the countless kids calling in something useful: information about Santa's progress from the North Pole. To quote the official NORAD Santa site, "a tradition was born."

From that point on, first CONAD and then, in 1958, when NORAD was formed, Shoup's organization offered annual Santa tracking as a service to the global community. A phone number was publicized and anyone was invited to call up, especially on December 24, and find out where Santa was. Manning those phones over the years have been countless numbers of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel and their families, and for many people, turning to NORAD to find out where Santa is became something to look forward to each year...

These days, of course, a single red phone isn't enough to handle the demand for the information.  Google has even jumped in to assist.  Most people, Frankovis said, just want to know where Santa is. And so the volunteer answering the question will look up at the big screen on the wall at the operations center and see where, on the map that is integrating geographical information from NORAD with Google's mapping service, Santa is at that moment.

"NORAD uses four high-tech systems to track Santa -- radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets," reads the NORAD Santa Web site. On Christmas Eve, NORAD monitors the radar systems continuously for indications that Santa Claus has left the North Pole.    Fighter pilots flying the CF-18 intercept and welcome Santa to North America.

"The moment that radar indicates Santa has lifted off, we use our second detection system. Satellites positioned in geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles from the Earth's surface are equipped with infrared sensors, which enable them to detect heat. Amazingly, Rudolph's bright red nose gives off an infrared signature, which allow our satellites to detect Rudolph and Santa.....

Last March, Shoup died, said Van Keuren. But in the years before his death, she and her family would take the retired colonel back to Colorado Springs each year for the Santa tracker training. "They would introduce him and he would say a few words," Van Keuren said. "So that was a big thrill for him."

In his later years, Shoup "was not as sharp as he used to be," she said. But his days overseeing the Santa tracker program were still near and dear to his heart. She said the NORAD folks had printed out a sheaf of e-mails kids had written in and gave them to Shoup as a reminder of what he'd started back in 1955.

"For the last weeks of his life, he carried them around in his briefcase like they were top secret papers," Van Keuren said. "Those were just precious to him. I'd read them to him over and over."
Don't tell me there is no Santa Claus!!!  Do you think it pure coincidence that a Sears ad just *happened* to be printed with a typo that just *happened* to connect directly to the most top-secret phone line in the world, of the only organization in the world who has a mandate to specifically "watch out" for (and defend from, if necessary) any aerial traffic coming across the North Pole?   I don't think so.  Santa's not stupid.  He knows who's been bad or good and he knows who might have the ability to accidentally take him out. 

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Goodnight!!

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