NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren corrals the supply of fresh fruit that arrived at the International Space Station on Aug. 25. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — A two-year scrap over NASA’s main space-medicine contract appears to be over now that SAIC has dropped its protest of NASA’s decision to award the nearly $1.5 billion Human Health and Performance contract to Wyle.

Wyle’s Houston-based Science, Technology and Engineering group won the contract — technically for the second time — in August. SAIC of McLean, Virginia, immediately lodged a protest with the Government Accountability Office, but withdrew it Sept. 1.

Wyle’s bid was better than bids from SAIC and another competitor, Jacobs Engineering Group of Pasadena, California, in every way, according to an official document explaining NASA’s decision making.

Wyle, NASA’s incumbent astronaut health services provider under a $1.5 billion Bioastronautics contract, appeared both more technically competent and cheaper than its competitors, and had a better history of performance as a NASA contractor, says a source selection statement dated July 27 and signed by Melanie Saunders, associate director at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

According to that document, SAIC proposed “unsupported and unsubstantiated reductions to personnel in key areas including Supervisors and senior technical personnel,” compared with current Bioastronautics staffing levels.

That prompted Saunders to question whether SAIC could bring enough technical and managerial expertise to bear to deliver the space medicine work and associated support tasks that could, if NASA exercises all its options, continue for up to 10 years under the new Human Health and Performance contract.

Jacobs, meanwhile, was considered a distant third in the competition. The company’s proposal “did not offer nearly as much value as the other two proposals,” wrote Saunders. She also dinged Jacobs for an “inadequate technical approach” to laboratory operations.

SAIC spokeswoman Lauren Presti said the company withdrew its protest because it did not see any point in dragging out the procurement cycle any further.

“We did not find any additional merit in proceeding further with the protest,” Presti said Sept. 30. “While we do not totally agree with all parts of the evaluations, we found that the evaluation was fair and appropriate.”

The base Human Health and Performance contract runs for five years, beginning Oct. 1. NASA holds a three-year option and a two-year option on the indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery deal, which could be worth up to $1.44 billion for Wyle.

Wyle’s contract includes not only day-to-day health care and wellness services for astronauts aboard the International Space Station but also biomedical research to support future crewed missions, and associated support tasks on the ground. Most of the work will be done at Johnson Space Center, the hub of the agency’s crewed spaceflight program, but some will be done at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

Although past performance was ostensibly the least important of the three selection criteria in the Human Health and Performance competition, after technical expertise and price, adherence to the status quo appears to have played a role in Wyle’s win.

“Wyle proposed essentially the same major subcontractors that are currently performing very relevant work on the predecessor to the HHPC contract, the Bioastronautics Contract,” Saunders wrote.

Wyle’s subcontractors on the Human Health and Performance contract include: Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Maryland; University of Texas Medical Branch of Galveston, Texas; Intelligent Automation of Rockville, Maryland; Anadarko of the Woodlands, Texas; and MEI Technologies, JES Tech, University of Houston, Intuitive Machines and GeoControl Systems, all of Houston.

SAIC, on the other hand, got what amounted to a nod of approval in the past-performance department for proposing a Human Health and Performance program manager with “very relevant past performance as a JSC Civil Servant,” Saunders wrote.

NASA first put the Human Health and Performance contract out for bids in 2013. Wyle won the first competition, but SAIC protested and NASA reopened the solicitation. SAIC won the second competition, but then Wyle protested, leading to a third competition that Wyle won.

NASA’s July 27 source selection document bolsters claims Wyle made in its 2013 bid protest. Wyle said at the time SAIC could not deliver what NASA wanted for the price NASA was willing to pay because SAIC lost too many resources and personnel when it split from its former parent, Leidos of Reston, Virginia.

In 2013, Leidos spun off its $4 billion government information technology and technical services unit into the publicly traded company that kept the SAIC name. SAIC’s first bid on the Human Health and Performance contract in 2013 had the backing of the old SAIC, which was an $11 billion company prior to the split.

Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.