With a boomBOOOMwhooooaoaosoasccchcracklecracklefizzBOOOOOM, "The Dream Is Alive," a movie about the space shuttle shot mostly by the astronauts themselves, blasts off today at the National Air and Space Museum.

It's 36 1/2 minutes long, five stories tall, and it's a wow. From the astronauts' cosmic catbird seat, the Nile looks like a tapeworm and Hurricane Josephine might be a breakfast danish. You can see the Alps (all of them) and Cape Canaveral.

"The Dream Is Alive" never explains exactly what a canaveral is, but if you didn't know that the space shuttle travels 17,000 mph, you know it now. Besides being educational, the movie has drama (as when the crew repairs a satellite in mid-orbit) and homey charm (as when astronauts David Leetsma and Kathryn Sullivan, out on a spacewalk, give "Hi mom!" waves through the window).

The cast includes 18 astronauts from three shuttle missions in 1984. All wear golf shirts, have names like "Ox" and "Pinky," and generally carry on like a mutually congratulatory foursome passing the late afternoon at the 19th hole. There's comedy inherent in weightlessness, and "The Dream Is Alive" makes the most of it, posing the astronauts upside down while shaving, or bobbing for airborne shrimp.

The movie, which cost an estimated $3.6 million, was shot in the IMAX format, in which each frame is approximately 2 by 2 3/4 inches, ten times larger than ordinary 35mm. The size of the frame makes for a picture of extraordinary vividness and clarity -- a couple of the shots even leave you airsick. The sound was designed by Oscar-winner Ben Burtt, of Lucasfilm, and encoded on a separate 35mm reel. The sound is separated into six tracks -- three for the speakers behind the screen, one for the top of the screen, and two for the left and right "surround" speakers -- which creates a depth and complexity of sound remarkably close to the real thing.

The Air and Space Museum contributed $700,000 of the budget against future ticket sales; the remaining $2.9 million was donated by Lockheed, which may be why there's a segment in the film touting the virtues of the shuttle's solar array panel, which was manufactured by, uh, Lockheed.

The narration, the usual blithering rodomontade, is delivered by Walter Cronkite in his best "what a miracle life is" tones. But it's hard to argue with a movie that can make a blastoff, with its pastel oranges and the violet of the sky and the woofer working at full throttle, seem like a Prince concert. And that says, as it envelops you with state-of-the-art sound and cinematic razzle-dazzle, that you too can be Jake Garn, if only for a half-hour.

"The Dream Is Alive" will be shown nine times a day, seven days a week, starting at 9:25 a.m., and alternated with the usual Air and Space Museum films: "To Fly!", "Living Planet" and "Flyers." Tickets are available a half-hour before the first performance.