Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut, was speaking two years ago during at an event the Boy Scouts of America, Northern New Jersey Council when he was asked a question about the possibility of Mars ever being colonized.
Kelly responded by remarking that his brother Scott, also an astronaut, had spent a year on the international space station and that his DNA had been altered either by radiation or the time spent in zero-gravity.
“I think the word hasn’t gotten out how bad it is for him,” Kelly said. “You know, it’s gotten so bad, that we recently had to release him back into the wild.”
Kelly pressed on.
“He’s like halfway between an orangutan and a Howler Monkey," he said. "We’ve even changed his name to Rodrigo. He lives in the woods. He lives in Eagle Rock Reservation.”
Eagle Rock is a forest reserve and park in New Jersey.
The comment was resurfaced by conservatives hoping to help Kelly’s Republican opponent, Sen. Martha McSally, keep her seat this November. Polls suggest that Kelly currently holds an advantage over the incumbent Republican.
Moses Sanchez, a Republican businessman who unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Phoenix in 2018, posted the video in Twitter and claimed Kelly was demeaning Latinos.
“Shameful video of Mark Kelly making a racist joke to an all-white crowd,” Sanchez tweeted. “He must think people named Rodrigo look like monkeys. Time to move past this type of racism & time for the media to scrutinize Mark Kelly more thoroughly like they would a Republican.”
It is unclear from the video what the racial make-up of the crowd was.
When questioned by the Arizona Republic, Kelly apologized and said he was trying to explain the toll the year in space took on his brother.
"My brother's year in space was really hard on him and we tried to bring some light to his difficult ordeal, but this comment does not do that and I apologize and deeply regret it,” he said.