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.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above -- but he'd dearly love to get in on the SpaceX IPO. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating on his favorite stock ideas under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 542 out of more than 170,000 members.

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