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Three crew members aboard the VSS Unity on Feb. 22, 2018. Photo: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, conducted a second successful test flight of its VSS Unity spacecraft in the skies above Mojave, California on Friday morning and this one made history.

Why it matters: The flight brings the company one step closer to realizing its vision of carrying tourists to space for tickets that reportedly cost up to $250,000 a piece. The test flight on Friday included a third passenger, Beth Moses, who is the company's chief astronaut instructor and a micro-gravity researcher. She became the first passenger to reach space aboard a commercial space craft.

The company said in a tweet that Moses "will provide human validation for the data we collect, including aspects of the customer cabin and spaceflight environment from the perspective of people in the back."

The details: The VSS Unity took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port at about 8 a.m. PT, carried by a larger plane, known as WhiteKnight Two. The aircraft flew to about 40,000 feet, where Unity was released from the mother ship, lit its rocket engine and eventually reached Mach 3 and an altitude of 55.85 miles.

That altitude is important, as it lies below the Karman Line, which is the widely accepted boundary to space that is 62 miles above the Earth's surface. However, the Federal Aviation Administration considers the beginning at 50 miles, and will hand out astronaut wings to persons who fly to that altitude.

Virgin Galactic's rival in the space tourism market, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, has run test flights above the Karman Line.

What they're saying: In remarks at a conference this week in New York, Bezos criticized Virgin Galactic's tests for not exceeding the Karman Line.

"We've always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Karman Line, because we didn’t want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether you're an astronaut or not," he said, according to Space News. "That's something they’re going to have to address, in my opinion."

Go deeper: Special report: The new global race to space

Editor's note: This story has been updated to note that this flight included the first passenger carried to space aboard a commercial spacecraft.

Go deeper

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Special report: Trump's U.S.-China transformation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump began his term by launching the trade war with China he had promised on the campaign trail. By mid-2020, however, Trump was no longer the public face of China policy-making as he became increasingly consumed with domestic troubles, giving his top aides carte blanche to pursue a cascade of tough-on-China policies.

Why it matters: Trump alone did not reshape the China relationship. But his trade war shattered global norms, paving the way for administration officials to pursue policies that just a few years earlier would have been unthinkable.

McConnell: Trump "provoked" Capitol mob

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Tuesday that the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 was "provoked by the president and other powerful people."

Why it matters: Trump was impeached by the House last week for "incitement of insurrection." McConnell has not said how he will vote in Trump's coming Senate impeachment trial, but sources told Axios' Mike Allen that the chances of him voting to convict are higher than 50%.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

GOP leaders skip Trump sendoff in favor of church with Biden

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in July. Photo by Erin Scott-Pool/Getty Images

Congressional leaders, including House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, will skip President Trump's departure ceremony in Maryland tomorrow morning in favor of attending mass with incoming President Joe Biden ahead of his inauguration, congressional sources familiar with their plans tell Axios.

Why it matters: Their decision is a clear sign of unity before Biden takes the oath of office.