NASA’s historic Apollo 7 mission splashed down 50 years ago today

50 years ago today, NASA’s historic Apollo 7 mission splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean after spending almost 11 days in space.

Apollo 7 was the first crewed Apollo mission in space and helped lay the foundations for subsequent lunar missions. Astronauts Walter Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham lifted off atop a Saturn 1B rocket from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 34 on Oct. 11, 1968.

After completing a wide array of tests in orbit, the astronauts splashed down in their Command Module southeast of Bermuda on Oct. 22, 1968.

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“All mission objectives were accomplished, and with a duration of nearly 11 days, the flight proved the ability of the spacecraft and crew to complete an 8-day lunar landing mission,” explains NASA, on its website. “All spacecraft systems performed essentially as expected, including the all-important Space Propulsion System (SPS) engine, critical on future missions to place crews into and return them from lunar orbit.”

The Apollo 7 crew is welcomed aboard the USS Essex, the prime recovery ship for the mission, on Oct. 22, 1968. Left to right, are astronauts Walter M. Schirra Jr., commander; Donn F. Eisele, command module pilot; and, Walter Cunningham, lunar module pilot.

The Apollo 7 crew is welcomed aboard the USS Essex, the prime recovery ship for the mission, on Oct. 22, 1968. Left to right, are astronauts Walter M. Schirra Jr., commander; Donn F. Eisele, command module pilot; and, Walter Cunningham, lunar module pilot. (NASA)

Apollo 7 also marked the first 3-person crewed U.S. spaceflight and the first live TV broadcast from an American spacecraft.

The mission came just 18 months after astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee tragically lost their lives in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire.

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Apollo 7 was the first American space mission to use a “mixed cabin atmosphere” consisting of 65 percent oxygen and 35 percent nitrogen. “All previous flights had used 100 percent oxygen, a procedure changed as a result of recommendations made by the Apollo 1 fire investigation board,” explained NASA.

Apollo 7 launches on Oct. 11, 1968. (NASA)

Apollo 7 launches on Oct. 11, 1968. (NASA)

“The success of Apollo 7 gave the nation confidence to be able to meet President Kennedy’s commitment of landing a man on the Moon before the end of the decade,” adds NASA.

Less than a year later, on July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the Moon.

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