The National Aeronautics and Space Administration yesterday named a team headed by Rockwell Shuttle Operations Co. as primary manager of the country's manned space program under a multi-year contract that is expected to last 15 years and total up to $4 billion.

The winning team, which will help operate the Johnson Space Center in Houston, includes three Washington area firms -- Bendix Field Engineering Corp. of Columbia, the primary subcontractor, Systems Development Corp. of McLean and RMS Technologies Inc. of Landover.

The award announced by NASA yesterday was for a four-year contract of $685 million. But Robert Minor, the president of Rockwell Shuttle, a recently formed division of Rockwell International, said that NASA officials had made it "very clear that, as long as the performance was proper, it would be up to 15 years."

The losing bidders were teams headed by Ford Aerospace, Grumman Space Operations Corp. and Lockheed Space Flight Co.

"This is absolutely fantastic," said Harry Kahler, a spokesman for RMS Technologies, a minority-owned computer firm that expects to receive between $35 million and $40 million during the potential 15-year life of the contract. "Its going to mean a significant increase in our revenues and an expansion of our presence within NASA."

RMS, which was formed in 1977 and currently employs about 800 people, will hire about 90 workers to perform its share of the contract, said Kahler.

The award is the culmination of a five-year plan by NASA to consolidate management of the Johnson Space Center along the lines of the consolidated contract it awarded to Lockheed a few years ago to manage the Kennedy Space Center. Johnson is mission control for the space shuttle program. The new contract will replace 22 contracts to 16 firms, a NASA official said.

Minor said the contract involves support for 66 shuttle flights -- 14 in 1986, 16 in 1987, 18 in 1988 and 18 in 1989. Among the duties are running the mission control center and crew training simulators as well as providing computer software for flight missions and crew training.

The primary subcontractor is Bendix, which provides facility maintenance and support and will employ about 1,000 of the 3,500 workers to be employed at the space center under the contract. Systems Development will provide between 700 to 800 of the workers, Minor said.