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NORAD tracks Santa Claus in cosmic trip to the International Space Station

Astronauts on the International Space Station are getting a special visit from a strange spacecraft powered by reindeer and carrying a jolly old elf. Yes, Santa has reached the final frontier. 

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and Analytical Graphics, Inc. (AGI) have unveiled a new video of Santa's flyby of the International Space Station, which comes just in time for Christmas during the station's 20th anniversary year of crewed missions. You can follow Santa's trip around the world at NORAD's special website here.

"Thanks to the magic of Santa's sleigh, he is making a special stop on his trip this year, to the International Space Station (ISS)," the video states. "NORAD satellites have spotted Santa on a true path straight to the ISS and the astronauts who are living and working on board."

Related: Holidays in space: an astronaut photo album

Santa Claus has made a special visit to the International Space Station to deliver presents for Christmas 2020.  (Image credit: AGI)

NORAD regularly tracks Santa's trip around the world each Christmas, but this year is a bit different. On Wednesday (Dec. 23), the Federal Aviation Administration gave Santa and his reindeer-powered sleigh an official commercial space license for launches and landings, and a crewed flight to the station. That cleared the skies for Santa's trip to the space station, where seven astronauts and cosmonauts are working as part of the Expedition 64 mission. 

Santa is apparently flying the StarSleigh-1 powered by a Rudolph Rocket, according to the FAA. Rudolph is clearly visible in the NORAD/AGI video, lighting up the depths of space with his brilliant red nose.

The new video does have some peculiarities. Only one SpaceX Dragon spacecraft is visible at the station (there are currently two docked there) and recent Northrop Grumman NG-14 Cygnus cargo ship (which departs the station next month) is nowhere to be seen. 

Still, it's great to see Santa wearing a spacesuit helmet in his open sleigh, though that appears to be just an extra precaution. An AGI spokesperson assured Space.com that Santa and his reindeer don't really need spacesuits because of their magic. 

Christmas fun aside, it is a landmark year for the International Space Station. Not only is the the 20th anniversary of crewed operations (the first crew took up residence in 2000), but 2020 also marked the first year that astronauts flew to the space station on a private spacecraft. 

In May, two NASA astronauts launched to the station on a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft during a historic test flight. That mission was followed by the Crew-1 launch on November, which sent four astronauts to the station as part of the Expedition 64 mission. 

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The station is currently home to NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Kate Rubins, Shannon Walker, as well as Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Russia.

The International Space Station is the largest human-made structure in space and has been in orbit since construction began in 1998. The first crew, Expedition 1, arrived at the station in November 2000. Since then, rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts have kept the station continuously crewed for two decades. 

Follow Santa's trip around the world at NORAD's special Santa Tracker website.

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Tariq Malik

SPACE.COM EDITOR IN CHIEF — Tariq joined the Space.com team in 2001 as a staff writer, and later editor, covering human spaceflight, exploration and space science. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Google+, Twitter and on Facebook.