Every December, Santa Claus puts on his famous red suit and begins the
serious work of delivering presents all over the world.
It's a job he's done in the same way for a long, long time, but times may be
changing as we enter the new millennium.
As people and space probes travel to
other worlds, the possibility of Christmas on other planets must be
Trying to figure out how to deliver presents to the entire
solar system is turning Santa's hair white.
Curious NASA scientists
contacted Santa Claus at his secret North Pole workshop to interview
him on this difficult subject.
He allowed us to visit but we had to
make the dangerous journey on our own. Santa took a break from his busy
Christmas duties to tell us how he plans to keep delivering gifts when
humans begin to live on other planets.
"The Moon won't be too hard,"
Santa told us.
"I bet that the lunar colonies will keep Earth time,
so I'll just add them to my route. The reindeer will grunt about having
to wear spacesuits but we'll get used to it." "Mars is going to be a
It takes Mars 687 days
to go around the Sun.
That's about two of our Earth years. So every
other year I'll have two Christmas runs to make, the Earth-Moon run
and the Mars run.
We will really have to 'haul Rudolph' as the reindeer
It's lucky that a Martian day is 37 minutes longer than an Earth
day, so we will still be able to do our usual overnight delivery. Other
planets are not as easy. Oh...excuse me." Santa had to stop to talk
to a team of elves about working late to finish some toys. "I do worry
about the elves," Santa continued.
"They need a slow period to fix the
factory and invent new toys for the next year. I will need more helpers
if we are going to deliver to the Moon and Mars, too." We asked Father
Christmas if he had made plans for the other planets. "Well, I have
thought about those other planets," Santa replied, "Take Venus, for
That is a tricky planet. It has a tough environment - high
temperatures and a thick, choking carbon dioxide atmosphere. Plus, the
clouds are made of sulfuric acid.
Talk about air pollution
- that will do a job on the reindeer's noses. The calendar is also a
problem. Venus circles the sun every 224 days, so Christmas will come
about every eight Earth months.
That's a little more often than we're
used to here on Earth, but it will be easy to deliver all the presents
in one night; our days are 24 hours long but one day on Venus is 5,832
hours! I'll have all the time in the world - their world - to deliver
the presents! Ho, ho, ho!
It also spins the wrong way, I hope that doesn't
make the reindeer sick!" "Now, the closest planet to the Sun is Mercury,"
he went on, wagging his finger. Santa really knows a lot about the solar
system. "You would think that Mercury would be the hottest planet but
it's not! Venus is warmer because of the greenhouse effect in its atmosphere.
That's not to say Mercury
It is awful! During the day, it gets up to 500 degrees centigrade.
We will need some special suits for my reindeer! The best part about
Mercury is that the year is just 88 Earth days long.
Kids will love
it! Imagine! Christmas every 88 days. It's a bit too often if you ask
me, but that's gravity for you."
Santa paused and then pondered, "Jupiter
will be the big challenge. If we actually build colonies on that planet,
I'll have less than 10 hours to deliver everything.
The giant planet
is 11 times wider than Earth, but it rotates more than twice as fast
-- once every 9 hours and 55 minutes! There is no solid surface, so
people would have to live in cities floating in the clouds.
The atmosphere is bad;
hydrogen, helium, methane, and ammonia. Jupiter's air is not as bad
as that on Venus but we will need more special suits.
The reindeer hate
wearing anything besides bells.
For me, the good news is that Christmas
will only happen every 12 years on Jupiter. It is so far away that I
think I'll turn Europa, the third largest moon, into a branch office.
Europa is entirely covered with ice, just like the North Pole here on
Earth, so the elves would feel right at home."
Santa stopped talking
to sign some orders for sleigh parts.
Mrs. Claus quietly entered and
gave us hot cocoa and cookies. "All this rocket scientist talk takes
some energy!" she joked.
"Thank you, my dear," the kindly Santa chuckled
as he shoved a chocolate chip cookie into his mouth, "Best cookies in
She is in charge of
the fuel department." "You know, it's a shame that Saturn is so far
away," he went on. "It's a lovely planet. I'd love to ride those rings
with my reindeer.
But you know, it's a long ways away! It's 9.5 times
farther from the Sun than the Earth.
I think it will be some time before
we get colonies out there. Uranus and Neptune have the same problem.
Pretty planets, nice gas giants, but very far away. Uranus, the closer
one, is 19 times the distance of Earth from the sun. Do you realize
it will take almost 7 hours for me to radio a message back home from
Uranus? That's a big problem.
I always send a message to Mrs. Claus
just before I head back to the North Pole so she won't worry. Why, I'll
be home before the message arrives!" "Well, sir, does that mean you
can travel faster than the speed of light?" our NASA scientist excitedly
Mrs. Claus put her finger to her lips as she looked at Santa
He smiled warmly, shook his head and sighed, and started talking
"Pluto, now Pluto really interests me. It takes 247 Earth
years to go around the Sun just one time.
hink of it, only one
Christmas every 247 years! Plenty of time to get ready for the next
There would also be plenty of time to deliver the presents,
a day on Pluto lasts six Earth days and 18 hours. That would be easy.
Plus it's the tiniest planet, there wouldn't be many presents to deliver.
A job on Pluto would really be much easier for me. Just think, if I
moved to Pluto, all the people everywhere could keep my calendar. Christmas
once every 247 years!"
He leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands
behind his head. He started to chuckle.
"Do you think kids would vote
for Christmas once every 247 years?" He reached for another cookie but
it was snatched from his hands by Mrs. Claus. "Now you stop your teasing.
You love that trip every Christmas Eve and you know it. You just tell
the children not to worry, Christmas will keep coming once every Earth
year even in the new millennium." She bundled some cookies into a bag.
"Here, take these for the trip back.
Don't pay too much attention
to my jolly elf, he is a big kidder."
We had many more questions but
we knew that we should go. We went to the front door and said our good-byes.
The stars and planets shone brightly in the clear dark sky. As we turned
to our dog sleds to begin our journey home, we heard Santa's voice boom
from inside, "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"