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REINDEER GAMES

The Pentagon’s annual Santa tracker treats Rudolph like a ballistic missile

By Adam Pasick

You better watch out: The Pentagon has kicked off its elaborately choreographed tracker of Santa Claus’s sleigh—and it compares Rudolph’s nose to a weapon of mass destruction.

“When a rocket or missile is launched, a tremendous amount of heat is produced—enough for the satellites to see them,” according to the 14-page handbook for the annual “NORAD Tracks Santa” publicity stunt. “Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch. The satellites detect Rudolph’s bright red nose with no problem.”

Specifically, the North American Aerospace Defense Command uses the Space-Based Infrared System, a constellation of Lockheed-Martin satellites that can detect the heat signatures of rockets and missiles from potential threats like North Korea.

Not to fact-check a fantastical propaganda campaign, but infrared radiation is invisible, and Rudolph’s nose is known for its unusual luminosity (specifically red, not infrared), providing navigational assistance in fog and other inclement weather conditions.

Asked about the difficulty of tracking Santa and guarding against a nuclear attack from North Korea at the same time, NORAD commander Gen. Lori Robinson told Politico “they are both no-fail missions, and I can assure you NORAD is capable of performing them both.”

The Santa tracker began in the 1950s, when a typo in a department store ad told kids to call Santa and accidentally printed the phone number for what eventually became NORAD headquarters in Colorado.

The wildly popular campaign has occasionally come under fire from groups that complain it taints the holiday with violence and militarism, especially when the US air force began flying fighter jets to supposedly escort Santa along his route.

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