Thursday brought some relief to Wall Street, as major market benchmarks posted solid gains in morning trading. First-time claims for unemployment benefits continued to drop, showing more signs that the economic recovery is proceeding apace. That finally put investors in a good mood after several days of sometimes steep declines. As of 11:15 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.17%) was up 187 points to 34,083. The S&P 500 (^GSPC 0.25%) climbed 35 points to 4,150, and the Nasdaq Composite (^IXIC 0.22%) rose 181 points to 13,481.

A couple of stocks at very different stages of their life cycles have captured the attention of investors lately. Ford Motor (F) is a venerable automaker, but it's taking a big step today toward reinventing itself for the future, and investors like what they're seeing. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic (SPCE -2.37%) has had some shareholders worried about its future, but news from the space tourism company today put investors more at ease.

Lightning strikes

Shares of Ford were up between 2% and 3% on Thursday morning. The automaker made good on its promise to deliver an electric version of its most popular pickup truck, and that has shareholders excited about what might come next from Ford.

Ford F-150 Lightning pickup on a road hauling a trailer.

Image source: Ford.

As promised, Ford unveiled its battery-electric F-150 Lightning pickup to great fanfare late Wednesday. The automaker said that the Lightning has 563 horsepower with more torque than any F-150 in history. With a maximum payload of 2,000 pounds for the standard model and up to 10,000 pounds of towing capacity for extended-range vehicles, Ford doesn't want to give up any features that have made its truck franchise so successful. The vehicle will even provide the ability to provide household power during outages. The entry model Lightning will start at a price just under $40,000, while the mid-series XLT model has a higher suggested price of about $53,000.

CEO Jim Farley praised the vehicle, noting that the Lightning marks "a massive moment for our Ford team." The truck marks a big step forward in Ford's overall electric vehicle plans, with the goal of a mass-market vehicle that "solves real problems for real people."

Some have been nervous about Ford's sluggish response to the electric vehicle movement. However, those fears are now behind them, and Ford has a powerful brand to support its groundbreaking entry into the crowded space as it aims to fight Tesla, General Motors, and others in the electric truck niche.

Go for launch

Elsewhere, shares of Virgin Galactic rocketed higher by 11% on Thursday morning. After nerve-racking delays, the space tourism hopeful is moving forward with test flight plans.

Virgin Galactic confirmed that the next rocket-powered test flight of the SpaceShipTwo Unity will happen on May 22, assuming that weather and technical tests check out. The company underwent a successful maintenance review of the VMS Eve mothership jet aircraft, which is responsible for carrying Unity nearly 10 miles above Earth's surface before it releases Unity to rocket higher on its own.

Virgin Galactic has faced increasing pressure from potential competition. In particular, privately held SpaceX is working hard on the tourism angle, with the promise of fully orbital spacecraft that could keep passengers in outer space indefinitely. That poses a threat to Virgin Galactic, whose intent is for very short suborbital trips that might not carry as much bang for the buck.

A lot will hinge on a May flight. With plans to carry research payloads for NASA and the intent to test remedial work in response to its December 2020 flight that ended with Unity's engines not firing, Virgin Galactic hopes to get things jump-started this time around.