For 365 days of the year, software by Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI) boosts the accuracy and productivity of
aerospace, defense and intelligence professionals as they perform land, sea, air and space analysis. But, on
December 24, it pulls double-duty and supports the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in their
Santa-tracking efforts. This year, visitors to the NORAD Tracks Santa® website, www.noradsanta.org, will use
2D and 3D Santa trackers created by AGI to follow Jolly Old Saint Nick in his trek around the world. The trackers
will analyze and visualize the data NORAD receives about Santa from fighter jets, satellites, radars and Santa
Cams and show viewers where he last visited. In some locations where high-tech Santa Cams are stationed, viewers
will catch glimpses of Santa and his reindeer as they fly past the cameras. AGI’s engineers built the interactive
3D tracker using Cesium, an open-source 3D virtual globe the company founded.
Using the 3D Santa tracker, viewers will be able
to see places Santa has visited as well as play
movies captured by special NORAD Santa Cams.
(Image: Analytical Graphics, Inc. [AGI])
The NORAD Tracks Santa tradition began in 1955 when a newspaper advertisement misprinted a Santa call-in phone
number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang to the Crew Commander on duty at the Continental Air Defense
Command (CONAD) Air Operations Center in Colorado Springs. The surprised commander instructed his staff to report
Santa’s official location, and the tradition began. NORAD has carried it on since it replaced CONAD in 1958.
In some ways, it's hard to believe that today's sophisticated tracking system started 57 years ago when the
Internet was barely taking shape and people received information mostly by mail and over land-line telephones. But
NORAD has kept pace with technology over the years, turning to AGI in 1997 when they wanted to take Santa-tracking
online. AGI developed and designed NORAD's first website, which had the URL www.stk.com/santa. That first year, the
website crashed when 100 users tried to track Santa at the same time! Subsequently, Internet providers such as AOL,
IBM and Google solved the bandwidth problem, and last year's heaviest load came on Dec. 24, when 1.6 million queries
came into the site in one second. In total, 19 million unique visitors from 220 countries visited the NORAD Tracks
Santa® site during the 2011 holiday season. NORAD also shares information on the social media sites Facebook,
YouTube, Twitter and Google+. Last year, approximately 1 million people
became fans of NORAD Tracks Santa® on
Facebook, and more than 100,000 people followed them on Twitter. This year, the site will be hosted by Microsoft on
To make this an even bigger event than last year, visitors should bookmark www.noradsanta.org and return daily.