Santa Claus is coming to town after briefly trading his sleigh for the cockpit of a T-38 jet at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Video posted Saturday shows onlookers waving to Santa and an elf acting as co-pilot.
The two-engine jet can reach speeds as high as Mach 1.2, fly to heights of 50,000 feet and is used for aerobatic maneuvers to help astronauts become adjusted to unusual altitudes they will experience in space shuttles, according to NASA.
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas is traditionally “tracked” by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known as NORAD, which is “a bi-national United States and Canadian organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America,” its website states.
This year NORAD Tracks Santa (NTS) will be operating at the Peterson Space Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which was transformed into a winter wonderland.
NORAD expects more than a thousand volunteers to help out with the annual event on Christmas Eve.
“We track Santa with the same assets that we use to keep the North American continent safe every day, which is our jets, our radars, and our satellites,” said 1st Lt. Sean Carter, program manager at NTS. “Even though Santa is faster than starlight, we get a really good image of where he is at all times.”
Carter said military and civilian volunteers will start coming in to assist with NORAD Tracks Santa operations from 4 a.m. to midnight on Christmas Eve. Notifications are available on multiple platforms, like the NTS website and app.
The modern tradition of tracking Santa started in 1955 when a child dialed an unlisted NORAD phone number in an advertisement. When a colonel answered the call, the child asked where St. Nick was. Since then, NORAD Tracks Santa has grown into a massive operation.