"Living Planet," which succeeds "To Fly" as the resident film spectacle at the National Air and Space Museum Theater today, follows in the literally heavenly tradition of its predecessor. Indeed, the first blissfully elevated vista reveals the Earth emerging from the edge of the frame to fill the screen, after which the camera plunges into a whirlpool of storm clouds accompanied by thunderclaps in six-track stereo.

The auditorium is so steeply sloped that all 483 seats have an unobstructed view of the gigantic screen, which extends 75 feet across and towers 50 feet high. When the presentation begins, the awesome effect of that vast screen surface is enhanced by the brilliantly sharp image of the IMAX projection system.

One graceful, lofty panorama succeeds another as the viewer skins effortlessly over jungles, deserts, waterways and cities, magically endowed with the vision and mobility of Superman. Movie freaks might consider themselves in heaven if they could see spotless prints of "2001," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and other valued feature spectacles projected through the IMAX system.

"To Fly" inagurated the theater on July 1, 1976. Museum officals estimate that it was seen by about 4 million visitors.

Although many moviegoers searched in vain for optimum presentations of "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters," "To Fly," which lasted less than half an hour, was always seen at its best. As a bonus, the auditorium was never a mess, and one was spared the increasingly common annoyance of wading through the accumulated remains of popcorn boxes and soft drinks.

"living planet," which runs 30 minutes, extends the techniques of "to fly" by taking unimpeded flight for granted and circling the globe to discover scenic wonders. "to fly" did a quick survey of aviation history and concentrated on American vistas. The cameras seem of fly with even more smoothness and assurance in "Living Planet." At one point they even venture underwater, revealing that the IMAX image can be just as fascinating submerged as it is airborne.

Both films were produced by Francis Thompson, a specialist in lyric, affirmativce documentary who contributed popular attractions to the 1964 New York World's Fair ("To be Alive," which later won an Oscar), Expo '67 and HemisFair '68. "Living Planet" was directed by Dennis Earl Moore with principal photography by Laszlo George and Burleigh Wartes. Some of their most stunning compositions include aerial passes over a herd of stampeding wildebeests, a camel caravan crossing undulating, deeply shadowed desert terrain and the roof of Chartres, plus a glorious pan up the length of the reflecting pool to reveal the facade of theTaj Mahal.

"Living Planet" will be the exclusive attraction at the Air and Space Museum Theater for the next two months. There are tentative plans to revive "To Fly" in June.The most desirable situation would be to have both films alternating on a regular basis.

One also anticipates furthur excursions on the wings of IMAX. Although virtually every image is majestic, the scenarios and commentary still leave something to be desired. For example,if the filmmakers are going to induylge in homemade poetry as earthbound as the following-"Come aloft with us, Pericles; glimpse your time and space through man's new wings"-perhaps a kindly man of letters will suggest authentic sources of inspirational verse to help bail them out in the future.

The IMAX system, developed in Canada and installed in aboiut a dozen special theaters around the world, employs an oversized film, 51 mm high and 71 mm wide, moving horizontally through a projector with an extremely wide-angle lens and illumination from a 12,000-watt xenon lamp. The large, brightly illuminated format produces a superlative image.

Admission fees of 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for senior citizens, students and children under 15 are used to cover operating and maintenance expenses at the theater. The production of "Living Planet" was subsidized by Johnson Wax, which also underwrote Thompson's "To Be Alive." The theaer entrance and ticket booth are located on the first level at the maroon wall. Tickets are available starting at 10 a.m. for any show of the day.

the museum invited 1,200 people to view the movie and attend a reception last night. Guests included Chief Justice Arren Burger, who enjoyed the movie and expressed pleasure with the excitement it purveyed. CAPTION: Picture 1, Fishermen in the Air and Space Museum's new film, "Living Planet"; Picture 2, Warren Burger, center, with Imogene and Sam Johnson at last night's receptions; by Linda Wheeler-The Washington Post