There must be something about space which brings out all the pretentiousness and pomposity inherent in that American institution, the TV Special.

The show modestly titled "Infinite Horizons: Space Beyond Apollo" will be aired tonight at 8:30 on ABC and narrated by science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury with help from his colleague writer Isaac Asimov, pop philosopher Alvin Toffler and the house science editor, Jules Bergman.

That should give you an idea of how ABC views the subject.

Fiction lurks in the wings throughout the hour: scenes from an old H. G. Wells film, kiddie cartoons of the Dick Tracy wrist radio, unlabeled simulations of various space activities.

The camera twists lovingly among the complex underpinnings of the Mount Palomar telescope - it's been around for decades, but it does look sort of futuristic. We are even taken up an elevator alongside a modern glass office building to enjoy the interestingly distorted reflections.

In fact, the best thing about the picture is its delicious visuals: one long, slow shot after another of rockets taking off with that dream-like deliberation they have; stunning angles of fabulous vehicles straight out of "2001"; sometimes just the pure pleasure of watching a flamingo wing its way lazily up from a swamp.

As von Moltke would say, magnificent, but it is not space....

Most of the program is devoted to setting a mood of nostalgia for the events of 10 years ago, wandering reverently around Canaveral's launching site as though it were the Parthenon, recalling the seminal Kennedy speech on the moon project, reliving yet again the robot-like dialogue between Houston and Apollo, the Moonwalk, "the euphoria of the '60s, when space was in its heyday," as Bradbury says.

How that elegant stylist must have winced at such lines, co-writer though he may have been. What did he think of pretentious twaddle like "A thousand years from tonight...who knows?" or "The space shuttle: America's challenge to the gravity that has held us down since the beginning of time!"

In the final minutes we do get down to business. We see live and simulated shots of the space shuttle, expected to become reality a year from now.

We are told of several other developments - none that you could really call news - from the space telescope, the satellite-operated two-way wrist radio and the camera monitor in the sky (already there) to laser space weapons, the much-discussed space colony and factories on the moon.

The loveliest idea is the last: giant space kites, drifting on solar winds a million miles an hour, far, far light years into the emptiness, bringing earthling explorers to stars beyond the sun.

And, oh yes, the most radical and daring innovation of all: There are now women (anyway, one) sitting at the consoles of Houston Control, and even a woman crew member on the space shuttle. If she she gets to go up - now, that will be progress.