The flight deck of the VSS Unity spacecraft during the test flight on Dec. 13, 2018. Credit: Virgin Galactic.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has successfully launched its VSS Unity space tourism rocketship to the edge of space, just beyond 50 miles above the surface of the Earth.

Why it matters: Virgin Galactic officials hope that this test will be a turning point in making commercial space tourism a reality. About 600 people have already doled out $250,000 to ride in the rocket and a get a view of Earth from above.

Yes, but: Virgin Galactic has had its fair share of trouble launching test flights. According to the AP, Branson hoped to have paying passengers take tours to the edge of space by 2007, but three technicians were killed that year by an explosion while testing a propellant system. And in 2014, the company's SpaceShipTwo broke apart during a test flight, killing the co-pilot.

  • Prior to Thursday's test, officials warned that there were "an array of reasons why it could end short of its goal or be aborted altogether,” per AP.

Details: The spaceship was carried by a plane to about 50,000 feet, where it then detached from the plane, ignited its rocket, and began its ascent.

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In pictures: Storm Zeta churns inland after lashing Louisiana

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Tropical Storm Zeta has killed at least two people, triggered flooding, downed powerlines and caused widespread outages since making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane on Wednesday.

The big picture: A record 11 named storms have made landfall in the U.S. this year. Zeta is the fifth named storm to do so in Louisiana in 2020, the most ever recorded. It weakened t0 a tropical storm early Thursday, as it continued to lash parts of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle with heavy rains and strong winds.