"It's the nearest thing to being up there and seeing for yourself," said NASA astronaut Ellen S. Baker, after the first showing of "Blue Planet" at the American Museum of Natural History recently.

She knows. She was up there and she, along with other astronauts on five space shuttle flights, shot most of the footage in this new IMAX film now showing at many theaters across the country. She was also seen briefly at work inside the shuttle Atlantis during its 1989 flight.But the story here isn't space or the astronauts. The large-format movie's focus is Earth and it first shows our global home as astronauts see it - like a bright blue jewel hanging in the vast black void of space. It also shows how small and vulnerable Earth is, wrapped in the protective and fragile envelope of its atmosphere.

The cameras then come down to Earth for vivid close-up footage of phenomena seen from space. The film also plunges into the ocean's depths and explores the surface by way of computer animation. It shows the beauty of the earth - but disturbing evidence of its deterioration, too.

Among other cities where the film has opened are Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Louisville, Philadelphia, San Diego, Seattle and Washington, D.C.