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Last Updated: Friday, 23 December 2005, 14:32 GMT
US tracks Santa's Christmas route
By Martin Plaut
BBC News

Santa and one of his trusty reindeer in Lapland
In 2004 Norad briefly lost track of Santa over the north Atlantic
Preparations are now almost complete for one of the strangest operations to be undertaken by the US and Canadian military.

Colorado Springs is the home of the North American Aerospace Defence Command - or Norad.

Situated in a tunnel driven 3km (1.9 miles) inside Cheyenne Mountain, this facility was designed to track incoming Soviet missiles and aircraft during the Cold War.

But this year they are celebrating a very different mission by drafting in hundreds of extra staff for a special Christmas Eve operation.

The story goes back 50 years, to when a department store in Colorado Springs carried an advert giving children a special hotline number to call its in-store Santa.

But the ad included a misprint.

Instead of reaching Santa Claus, the number was for the red phone used by the commander-in-chief of the American missile tracking operation.

'We know where he is'

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Norad tracks Santa because of Rudolph's heat-emitting red-nose
"Colonel Harry Shoup picked up the phone, and on the line was a little girl, saying 'Are you Santa?'," explained Sergeant John Tomassi of Norad.

"And he was quite shocked, because normally that phone is reserved for the Pentagon or the four-star general.

"Once he finally realised what had happened he talked to the child's mother, and he said: 'I am not Santa, but I know where Santa is'.

"The local media heard about this and since then it has taken off and last year we answered 55,000 phone calls on Christmas Eve."

Heat signature

Sgt Tomassi has been working on the Santa-tracking operation since June.

He and 550 military personnel have volunteered to spend Christmas Eve answering a blizzard of phone calls and emails from children around the world.

They will receive updates every five minutes on Santa's location, which will be plotted on a large screen.

The location is also put on a webpage, which last year recorded nearly one billion hits.

Oh, and in case you were wondering how Santa's progress is tracked, Norad reports - officially - that Rudolph the reindeer's famous nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch.

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25 Dec 97 |  Science/Nature

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