And they're off! In the latest installment of space investing news, NASA just announced the four companies that will help it build a commercial spacecraft to replace the soon-to-be-defunct space shuttle fleet.

Doling out $270 million among privately held SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada, and Boeing (NYSE: BA), NASA is helping jump-start the shift to commercial space operations that President Obama called for last year. Boeing's said to be the biggest beneficiary, reaping a $92.3 million lion's share of the government largesse. United Launch Alliance Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) is probably pleased to hear that, too.

But the biggest news here is for the smaller companies in NASA's lineup. The contract comes at a particularly auspicious time for SpaceX. According to the rumor mill, founder Elon Musk plans to have SpaceX follow its corporate sibling Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA) onto the public markets soon. And I personally can hardly wait -- unlike Tesla, SpaceX is said to be profitable.)

Here's to hoping.

Are you looking for the best way to invest in the space race? Join the club -- literally. At Motley Fool Rule Breakers, we've already found one big beneficiary of the shift to commercial spaceflight, and we're keeping eyes on the heavens, searching for more. Join the search, and take a thirty-day free trial on our dime.