The missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may be one of the strangest news stories to hit the airwaves in a long time. Now, NASA is offering its assistance in searching for the missing airliner. 

The space agency is carefully examining photographs taken in the period after the plane disappeared, soon after takeoff, on Friday, 7 March. 

"Activities under way include mining data archives of satellite data acquired earlier and using space-based assets, such as the Earth-Observing-1(EO-1) satellite and the ISERV camera on the International Space Station, to acquire new images of possible crash sites. The resolution of images from these instruments could be used to identify objects of about 98 feet or larger," Allard Beutel, NASA spokesman, wrote in an email to Space.com. 

NASA will be sending data to the U.S. Geological Survey's Earth Resources Observations and Science Hazard Data Distribution System. This programs allows the exchange of information among accident investigators. It goes into effect any time the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters is activated. China activated that system for the missing airliner on Tuesday, 11 March. 

Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, headed for Beijing. About one hour after takeoff, the plane disappeared from radar, as the craft was flying over the Gulf of Thailand. There were no unusual signals or communications from the craft. 

Oddly, an electronic ping from the airplane was still received for several hours after the disappearance. The whereabouts of 227 passengers and 12 crew members remains a mystery. 

Radar stations are located on land, and a typical station has a range of about 200 miles. This means that planes playing over oceans regularly go off radar. During that time, they keep air traffic controllers apprised of their situation through regular radio communication, using both voice and text messaging. 

"Airlines file flight plans, and airplanes are expected to arrive at certain points by certain times. When an airplane crew fails to check in at its next checkpoint, that is when an alarm is raised. This case is an extremely rare event, especially with the highly technologically advanced aircraft in the air today," Emily McGee of the Flight Safety Foundation, wrote to Live Science in an email. 

In 2009, Air France flight 447 took off from Rio de Janeiro, heading toward Paris, when it too, disappeared from radar screens. The wreckage was not found for five days, and the black boxes were not recovered for almost two years. 

This worldwide call for satellite investigation from China will bring nations around the world into the hunt for the missing aircraft. The public is also joining the search through crowdsourcing organized by Tomnod. 

For families of those on board, this is a trying, tragic time. But now, thousands of eyes both on - and above - the Earth are on the lookout for the missing aircraft.

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