Huntsville residents who want to be "astronauts for a day" can sample astronaut-training activities at the sprawling U.S. Space and Rocket Center. The hands-on showcase of space technology is the state's largest tourist attraction. It is home to the internationally-known U.S. Space Camp, which has franchise operations in Japan, Belgium and Canada. A variety of city museums downtown and an outstanding symphony orchestra offer rich cultural opportunities involving the arts. The legendary Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, which encompasses 21 courses in eight cities in Alabama, begins here at the 54-hole Hampton Cove Golf Course. Hampton Cove features two championship courses surrounded by mountains and lakes. Alabama now ranks fifth in the nation for public golf courses per resident.
A legacy for visitors of Huntsville's space program is the renowned U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Guests can experience astronaut-training activities, feel simulated weightlessness and view large-screen movies filmed by astronauts in space. The Center's U.S. Space Camp attracts young people from throughout the world who spend a week experiencing space flight training and participate in mock space missions. It was Von Braun himself who inspired Space Camp. He suggested that the space museum develop an intensive youth science program to stimulate children's interest in math and science. Guided bus tours of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center take visitors through large hangar-sized buildings such as where engineers are building the nation's first permanent space station. They also visit giant outdoor test stands where America's rockets have been test fired. Adjacent to the space museum is the beautiful Huntsville Botanical Garden, which features floral and aquatic gardens.
Despite becoming the space capital of America, Huntsville maintains close contact with its past. The literal birthplace, "the big spring," still flows from a rock bluff underneath the 1835 Regions Bank. It winds through a lushly landscaped park into a lake surrounded by scores of trees. A new three-story building to house the Huntsville Museum of Art has been built in Big Spring Park. Facing the park is the city's civic and convention center named for the legendary German-born rocket scientist. The Von Braun Center contains an arena, exhibit hall, banquet hall, theater and meeting rooms. A variety of special events, ranging from tours of historic homes in the spring to the Big Spring Jam music festival in September and brilliantly lighted Christmas festivals in December, fill the annual calendar of events. Air travelers arrive at the Huntsville International Airport just 12 miles west of Huntsville. Some 70 jet flights depart daily in addition to several weekly non-stop freight flights to Europe.
Walking tours of the Twickenham historic district, with the state's largest collection of pre-Civil War homes, are popular year round. Because many wealthy businessmen remained loyal to the Union at the start of the Civil War, the town was spared the destruction by occupying armies. Plan also to visit the 1819 Weeden House Museum and the 1860 Huntsville Depot Museum. A unique shopping opportunity is offered at the 1879 Harrison Brothers Hardware Store. Restored 19th century cabins and farm buildings are displayed at the mountaintop Burritt Museum and Park.
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