While the phrase “reach for the stars” is a cliché often used to motivate high school graduates, it’s quite applicable to Sublette High School senior Jayden Garetson.

“I was always interested in the exploration of space, and then my parents got me a giant National Geographic encyclopedia on space for Christmas when I was 7 or 8, and I just read through the whole thing,” said Garetson, who graduated from Sublette High School recently.

Garetson, whose dream is to be an aerospace engineer, was one of two students named to the Sublette High School principal’s honor roll this year for his 4.0 grade-point average.

And when he wasn’t participating in football, choir, scholar’s bowl, student council or the Kansas Association of Youth, Garetson was finding ways to explore the skies – in the fields of his family’s farm a few miles outside of Sublette. “I work with robotic aircraft. Actually, a year and a half ago, my dad sent me an article about robotic aircraft in agriculture,” Garetson said.

He said his dad asked him to do more research on the technology, and in the process he found a company in Neodesha called Ag Eagle that sells robotic aircraft that helps producers pinpoint areas of concern in their fields. “We had them come out, and they showed us a demo, so we ordered one and got it last spring and played around with it,” Garetson said.

That turned into an opportunity for Garetson to intern for the company last summer, where he didn’t expect to do much of what he thought would be “fun” stuff. “I actually was thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll push papers around, or maybe I’ll get to build a little bit or help put things together,’ ” he said.

Instead, the company’s owner, who was busy at trade shows, asked him to test-fly them. “He taught me how to test-fly all of them, so I actually have flown maybe 50 or 60 of them,” Garetson said.

The robotic aircraft at the family farm helps save both time and money. The aircraft is equipped with a camera that takes images of fields, and then, using software, Garetson compiles all of the images into one large image, showing where potential issues are.

“It takes infrared images in the field, so we can find problems in the plants. That’s the purpose of it,” he said. “Then we have our crop scout go in and see if it’s bugs, weeds. If it’s a pest, then we can actually plug it into our sprayer and have the sprayer only spray that area. So we’re saving in chemicals, and we’re saving our yield by finding these problems earlier.”

Prior to attending college in the fall, Garetson is going to continue working with the robotic aircraft on the family farm this summer.

“I’m just going to try flying each of our fields once a week, and then compare all of that data over the course of the season, and then see how it correlates with yield maps,” he said. “And I’ll try to train our crop scouts on it, so hopefully I don’t have to come back. These next few summers, I’ll probably be doing internships or research, so I’ll get them started to where they can do it themselves and use that to spray less and find problems earlier.”

Garetson’s plan is to major in aerospace engineering at the University of Kansas, starting in the fall.

His ultimate goal is to work for Space X, a company out of California. “If not there, then either NASA, or there are several private companies,” Garetson said. “If I fall into the others, I won’t be too upset, as long as I can design rockets.”

He’s been into space and rockets for as long as he can remember, even attending the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center’s space camp for six consecutive summers.

While he definitely has the brains for it, Garetson is more interested in exploring than in the mathematical concepts he will have to use in his chosen profession. “I don’t know if I love math. I like using it as a tool to engineer designs, but I’m more about problem-solving and practical uses,” Garetson said.

He believes the best lesson he learned in high school is the ability to learn. “The point of high school is teaching you the basics, the core, the foundation,” he said, adding that it gave him a solid understanding of how to research and seek answers himself. “Because they can’t teach you everything.”

Garetson shared the Principal’s Honor Roll with Andrew Lower, who also achieved a 4.0 GPA.

Angie Haflich is a reporter with the Garden City Telegram. Email: ahaflich@gctelegram.com.