Before visions of sugarplums dance in their heads, Missouri children can keep an eye on Old Saint Nick’s journey around the globe Tuesday. For more than 50 years, NORAD has been tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and providing children and anyone young at heart with up-to-date information about the jolly old elf’s whereabouts.

According to U.S. Army Captain Ruth Castro, they use the latest technology to pin down the exact location of the reindeer-powered sleigh.

“We use a lot of our different military assets: we use radars, we use satellites, we use our ‘Santa Cams.’ The good thing is that Rudolph has his red nose, so a lot of our infrared stuff can detect that,” she pointed out. “And that’s how we’re able to keep track of them.”

Starting this morning at 5 a.m. Central Standard Time, trackers can find Santa’s whereabouts online at NORADSanta.org. This year, tracking also is available on smartphones, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, or by calling 877-HI-NORAD.

The “NORAD Tracks Santa” program is funded by contributions and staffed by more than 1200 volunteers. Capt. Castro reported that when the sleigh is flying over the United States, fighter jets provide the escort to ensure safety.

“These pilots, they just kind of come up towards Santa while they’re in the North American airspace, and they just kind of guide him through while he’s here … and then, they say their hellos and then he’s off.”

Castro said it’s tough to know when Santa will be in the skies over individual states such as Missouri because he alters his flight path somewhat from year to year.

“He changes his route. He never really tells us where he’s going. He doesn’t file his flight plan like he should,” she complained. “He just does what he wants, since he is Santa.”

NORAD’s Santa-tracking mission began accidentally in 1955, when a department store placed an ad encouraging families to “call Santa Claus” – with the wrong phone number. A military colonel answered and instructed his staff to check the radar for indications of Santa making his way from the North Pole. Any child who called was given an update – and that’s how the tradition began.