Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and a member of the Armed Services Committee, co-founded the stratosphere exploration company World View which has investment from Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings, as the Arizona Democratic has recently said the government should not be shooting down "weather balloons."
According to RealClearPolitics, "Kelly himself has first-hand knowledge of China’s investments in near-space balloon technology" and co-founded the company in 2012, which then gained investment from Tencent in 2014.
Tencent, the owners of texting app WeChat, have been accused of surveillance on behalf of the CCP and have seen international bans over evidence it has collected data inside and outside of China. "Kelly was instrumental in securing the first Tencent investment," reports RealClearPolitics.
The company's website features video of balloon technology launching payloads into the atmosphere. World View's initial launch promised space tourism for $75,000 where a helium balloon would propel a capsule into outer space. That balloon technology, called "stratollite," transitioned from space tourism to NASA contracting by 2015. Its repurpose moved to image the earth at a higher resolution than most satellites.
From 2016 to 2019 Claudia Kelly, the senator's eldest daughter, worked as World View's business opportunity manager and Senator Kelly was employed by the company as a strategic advisor through 2019 when he launched his senate campaign.
RealClearPolitics reports, "According to his 2019-2021 financial disclosure report and amendments filed with the Senate as required, he maintained a $100,000-$250,000 financial stake in the company."
Because Kelly's pivoted his financial assets to a blind trust in 2021 it is unclear how much his investment is currently worth.
On February 5, the US military downed a Chinese surveillance balloon in the Atlantic Ocean after it traversed a large portion of the continental United States. Chinese officials claimed the balloon was a civilian weather balloon that had moved off its course.
According to the Associated Press, Kelly said earlier in the week, "I don't think we want to get into the business of launching AIM-9Xs — at $400,000 a pop — at weather balloons"
"It would really help the Defense Department to be able to sort out what is civilian science payload, what’s a weather balloon, what’s a NASA balloon, what’s a private company in the United States doing, what might be even a US military," Kelly added.
The week after the downing of the Chinese surveillance balloon the US downed three other unidentified high altitude objects over North American airspace that could have been civilian vessels.
Kelly's Senate campaign took a $5,000 donation from Tencent’s chief exploration officer, David Wallerstein, in 2020.
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