How NORAD's Santa Tracker Was ACCIDENTALLY Launched by a Child's Call to a Top-Secret Phone Line

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How NORAD’s Santa Tracker Was ACCIDENTALLY Launched by a Child’s Call to a Top-Secret Phone Line

Nearly seven decades ago, in the midst of the Cold War, a five-year-old child inadvertently called a top-secret emergency line reserved only for the US president and one four-star general.

The innocent request? A chat with none other than Santa Claus.

How NORAD's Santa Tracker Was ACCIDENTALLY Launched By A Child's Call To A Top-Secret Phone Line's Santa Tracker Was Accidentally Launched By A Child's Call To A Top-secret Phone Line
How NORAD’s Santa Tracker Was ACCIDENTALLY Launched

‘Hello, is this Santa?’ he asked Colonel Harry Shoup, who was stationed at the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado when he answered the confidential line in early December 1955 – fully expecting the worst.

A call on the emergency line meant only one thing – the outbreak of World War III. Only one other person – a four-star general at the Pentagon – had access to the hotline number.

That mischievous misdial ended up birthing the most unique mission of The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) – the Santa Tracker.

This year marks NORAD’s 68th Christmas tracking Santa.

Shoup’s family revealed their stern father was far from amused when he initially answered the phone – and was reportedly ‘annoyed’ and ‘upset’ thinking it was a prank call, according to a 2014 NPR interview.

But when the child began to cry, Shoup realized it was a mistake and switched gears.

The boy’s mother revealed the source of the confusion – a Sears ad containing a phone number to call Santa.

Upon entering the command centre on Christmas Eve, Shoup found a drawing of Santa’s sleigh on the tracking board. His airmen had whimsically depicted Santa and his reindeer coming over the North Pole.

Shoup then playfully called a radio station, declaring, ‘This is the commander at the Combat Alert Center, and we have an unidentified flying object. Why, it looks like a sleigh.’

Radio stations soon began calling him every hour, asking, ‘Where’s Santa now?’

Over the decades, NORAD’s Santa mission has expanded, with volunteers fielding around 130,000 calls annually.

Its digital reach has grown from a tracker website to social media, attracting millions of visitors from over 200 countries and is now available in Korean, among its growing list of languages.

Today, NORAD Tracks Santa is a multimedia experience that goes live every December 1, offering a website, games, videos, books, and more. Amazon’s Alexa service even relayed NORAD Tracks Santa updates through the Echo last year.

Shoup’s children unanimously agreed that starting the Santa Tracker was the accomplishment their father was most proud of in his career.

In his later years, Shoup received letters from people worldwide, thanking him for having a sense of humour about it, which he kept in a locked briefcase ‘like it was top-secret information.’

NORAD is a joint organization of the United States and Canada that defends the continent from potential incoming airborne threats 365 days per year.

Its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), began tracking Santa in 1955.

NORAD replaced CONAD in 1958 and took over the mission of tracking Santa’s flight around the world and has been doing it every year since.

Every day NORAD tracks airplanes, missiles, space launches, and anything else that flies in or around the North American continent.

On Christmas Eve, they take on the momentous job of following Saint Nicholas on behalf of everyone tucked up in bed waiting.

Their website states: ‘While the tradition of tracking Santa began purely by accident, NORAD continues to track Santa.

‘We’re the only organization that has the technology, the qualifications, and the people to do it. And, we love it! NORAD is honoured to be Santa’s official tracker.’

Over 1,250 NORAD personnel join in on the Santa Tracker effort each year, answering phone calls and emails about Santa’s progress.

The entire operation is powered by simulation software built by AGI/Ansys.

Ansys simulation software is used to ensure NORAD can safely track Santa as he travels around the world,’ Adam Gorski, an aerospace engineer with Ansys Government Initiatives, told

‘Ansys simulations ensure NORAD satellites can detect the heat from Rudolph’s nose, and radars can track Santa’s sleigh high in the sky.

‘Our simulations are also used to help Santa’s elves perform some aerodynamic analysis on designs of his sleigh over the year.’

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