First it was Tang. Now it's Parmigiano-Reggiano straight from Parma. Talk about progress.
According to Vickie Kloeris, manager of the flight food systems at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, crew members of the International Space Station can now request special foods in advance. One of the more popular items is the aforementioned cheese.
Space officials decided to include the artisanal cheese on mission menus after Dr. Umberto Solimene, professor of medical therapy at the University of Milan, witnessed returning cosmonauts attacking it with a zeel exceeding "mere gastronomic pleasure" - from what he characterizes as a significant craving due to calcium loss, a common problem of astronauts on long-term missions in a zero-gravity environment.
Studies done on board the Russian space station MIR showed a drop in bone mass at the rate of 1% per month. The milk protein in Parmigiano-Reggiano breaks down into free amino acids, which do not require processing by the body and are immediately available for the body to metabolize. This makes Parmigiano-Reggiano easier to digest than other protein sources. It is also a rich source of calcium and phosphorous. So with a daily ration of 3½ ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano space crews can get 100% of the recommended daily allowance of 1200 mg. of calcium from a natural food source.
[ via David Leite, Gourmet magazine, Nov. 2005 ]