Environmental species measurement on airborne atmospheric research craft is a demanding application for optical sensing techniques. Yet optical techniques offer many advantages including high-precision, fast response, and high species selectivity. Balloonsonde, kite, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or glider deployment demands that sensors meet stringent size, weight and power requirements. Few measurements are as important, and none have entered into the public consciousness, like the need to quantify atmospheric carbon dioxide. Vista Photonics proposes to develop rugged, compact, power efficient prototype optical sensors capable of selectively measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide and water vapor with precision that rivals ground based instruments. The enabling technology for meeting stringent NASA mission requirements is a newly emergent infrared laser source that delivers the high-sensitivity of established optical absorption detection techniques with extreme compactness and low power draw.