Along with serving as weather forecasters' orbiting eyes, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites helped save 253 lives in the United States in 2013.

The satellites detected distress signals from emergency beacons and relayed the message to local rescue authorities. A NOAA map displays the locations of the rescues along with brief reports about the incidents.

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The highest number of rescues, 101, occurred in Alaska, including passengers from a small plane that crashed near Le Conte Bay, Alaska. One passenger died in the crash, while six others were saved.

Another rescue involved a B-1 bomber that crashed near Broadus, Mont. The bomber's two pilots and two weapons control officers were picked up by the Powder River County Sheriff’s Department using coordinates provided by the satellites. Near Fresno, Calif., a hiker signaled the emergency system after coming upon an injured person on the trail.

Most of the satellites-assisted saves, 139, occurred in the water. Eighty of the incidents happened on land. Aviation accidents accounted for 34 rescues.

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The NOAA satellites form part of the Search and Rescue Satellite Aided Tracking System, which keeps tabs on emergency beacons around the world.

Besides responding to distress signals, NOAA's satellites also take images of the planet and record data about changes. For example, the JASON-2 satellite helps predict hurricanes and monitors the effects of climate change by measuring ocean circulation, sea level rise and wave height.