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Up on the rooftop

Santa Claus is coming to town in a few weeks, and at the nation's top watch-center of the North American skies, North American Aerospace Defense Command, some people are checking their lists and watching for the fabled gift-giver.

Although the folklore of Santa Claus, the bringer of presents to all good children on Christmas day, has been around for several centuries, the technologically modern tradition of "tracking" Santa Claus for Canadian and American children has been around for 45 years.

The practice began in 1955 when a Sears store put an advertisement in a local newspaper, saying children could call a hotline to get an update on where Santa Claus was, Project Coordinator Maj. Jamie Robertson said.

The Colorado Springs-based Air Defense Command's number was issued instead and children flooded the office with calls. Reacting quickly, the office decided to play along and gave regular updates on Santa Claus's location in the world.

Two years later, NORAD and the U.S. Space Command took over the operation.

In 1997, NORAD moved the project to the Internet, providing online updates.

"CNN put up updates every half hour" in 1997, said Bob Hall, the director of Video Productions of Analytical Graphics, who is providing the computer graphics and software design of the project. "We were buried."

IBM volunteered to provide server space, relieving the stress on the Internet site last year, and has decided to do the same again this year.

Analytical Graphics, the company designing the site, is famous for its simulations of trajectories. The company made the Mars Polar Lander video.

Robertson said Santa Claus tracking will start later this week, possibly beginning today.

According to Hall, Santa's trajectory will take him first to New Zealand and Australia, around 7 p.m. EST. Then, racing against the rotation of the Earth and the unavoidable change of time zones, he said Santa will deliver presents as he passes by many landmarks that children will recognize, as the scenes are relayed over the Internet to the world.

Hall said NORAD and Analytical Graphics picked places that children would recognize, such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt and the Taj Mahal in India.

"We want it to pass the six-year-old test," Robertson said.

Children of all ages can track Santa at He added that NORAD is pleased to provide the service, which is provided entirely by thousands of volunteers who man the phones on Christmas Eve and Day.

"It's becoming a global thing," he said.

With the added innovations of the Internet and an increasingly global culture, Robertson said, the entire world has tracked Santa with NORAD.

This year, the site will expand to provide information in six languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese.

Another new feature of the project is a CD that may be purchased for $5 at, which will "minimize download times" of the images and movies on the site, Hall said.

Robertson said he this year's tracking to go smoothly.

"It's going to be an exciting night," he said.


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