What does it take to unlock the Lockheed Martin Challenge box? Just ask mechanical engineering seniors Jason Lazar, Maxwell Baum, and Wade Titterton, who were able to crack the code.

“Jason and I had just watched three different people answer the fourth question wrong right in front of us, so we weren’t too hopeful when it was our turn,” said Baum, a Medfield, Massachusetts native.

Baum first analyzed the problem Tuesday evening and quickly realized how difficult the question really was. He recruited Lazar and Titterton, and the three of them decided to tackle the challenge together.

“We solved questions one and three fairly easily before attempting number four. Overall we spent around eight or so hours trying to figure it out,” said Lazar, who’s from Potomac, Maryland.

What made this mysterious, massive black cube set up in the Moss Arts Center so difficult to crack?

Students were presented with four tough engineering problems on a touchscreen display, the fourth being the key to unlocking the grand prize of $10,000. While the other three problems changed each day, the $10,000 question remained the same and was in fact, an actual problem that Lockheed Martin engineers were confronted with in the field while designing one of their military satellites.

The winning team remains in shock. “I honestly didn’t believe it and am still having a hard time doing so. We all thought we had the right answer and were very confident in it, but I just didn’t believe we’d win the prize,” said Titterton, who’s from Hebron, Connecticut.

By the end of day three, 802 students had attempted the problems and 98 walked away with a special prize for answering one of the first three questions correctly. The prize was a vinyl disc replica of The Golden Record, a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images from Earth that NASA sent into space via their Voyager spacecraft — a feat that “won Box Set of the Year at this year’s Grammy Awards,” noted Alex Walker, marketing communications manager at Lockheed Martin.

“Lockheed Martin built some of the instrumentation on board the [Voyager] spacecraft and launched it on a Titan rocket, so there’s a nice connection to this particular prize and our company’s legacy,” he said.

Walker said Lockheed Martin’s legacy is  something he hopes students passionate about space can get excited about.

“A lot of people are blown away when I tell them that Lockheed Martin has been on every NASA mission to Mars, or that we build GPS satellites for the U.S. Air Force and weather satellites for NOAA,” Walker said. “We want to make sure the next generation of engineering talent knows that at Lockheed Martin, ‘We Do Space.’ If the Challenge Box can help make that connection, then it’s served a great purpose.”

The Challenge Box is a part of Lockheed Martin’s “We Do Space” campaign to encourage and attract students passionate about space to pursue a career with their company. Through a “longstanding partnership and enduring relationship with Tech,” Walker said Lockheed Martin chose Tech to be the first university to host the Challenge Box.

“These past three days at Tech have been a wonderful experience. So many students have approached me to say how much they appreciate Lockheed Martin coming to campus. One told me that it meant a lot that our company cares so much about VT students. Hopefully I’ll see some of these same students on a Lockheed Martin campus in the years to come,” Walker said.

What’s next for the winning Hokies?

Lazar hopes to further his education by receiving a master’s degree in mechanical or aerospace engineering, and aspires to engineer high-performance vehicles, citing his work so far with the Hybrid Electric Vehicle Team.

Titterton is passionate about airplanes, and has gained valuable experience and knowledge during his past internships with Pratt and Whitney.

Baum, who also shares in Titterton’s passion for airplanes, says he hopes to enter a field that allows him to “gain experience and apply my knowledge in challenging ways.

“I honestly just want to contribute to something tangible that will both benefit people and also challenge my engineering ability. I want to be proud of my work,” Baum said.

Written by Stephanie Kapllani

Five of Lockheed Martin's staff members stand smiling inside of the challenge box, which is completely covered with mirrors.
Lockheed Martin staff members stand together inside the Challenge Box.