I’m gathering info in advance of some articles for Wired News on the upcoming X Prize Cup in Las Cruces, New Mexico October 6-9. This is the first annual space expo put together by X Prize founder Peter Diamandis. The idea is that in future years it will be the Indie 500 of spaceships, with head-to-head competition between rocket builders and pilots to see who can fly the highest and fastest and the greatest number of passengers to orbit.

This year it looks like only one vehicle will be piloted, a rocket-powered Long-EZ airplane developed by XCOR Aerospace and dubbed the EZ Rocket. At the controls will be Rick Searfoss, who was chief judge for the X Prize. He’s also an accomplished test pilot and a veteran of three space shuttle missions, one of which, STS-90 in 1998, he commanded.

Searfoss tells me the new commercial space industry is where the action is. Retiring NASA astronauts, he told me just now on the phone, generally have two choices–either to go work for big aerospace companies, or to “descend into management” at NASA. Neither option appealed to him; he wanted to fly in space again, and he feels XCOR gives him a good shot at it.

Flying the EZ Rocket gives a good taste of what’s to come; XCOR is planning a suborbital space plane that will take off from a runway under rocket power. Should be a good show on Sunday, October 9. Searfoss is due to blast off at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m.